A Load of Bologna: Digital Publishing in "an Ecosystem of Storytelling"

What happens in Italy doesn’t necessarily stay in Italy, at least if what’s happening is the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. The Lerner folks who are in Bologna right now will doubtless return with many new nuggets of wisdom–and for those of us who couldn’t make it (sigh, so many other commitments), dispatches from the front lines are available via the interwebs. Exhibit A: The Tools of Change Bologna Conference for Children’s Digital Book Publishing was held this past Sunday, before the start of the book fair. Was I there? No. Can I quote the highlights [Publishers Weekly]? Behold.

Sourcebooks publisher Dominique Raccah: “For a long time, we’ve made kids read what we wanted to them read,” but now, “Children are driving the market by what they choose to read, rather than the adults who purchase the books on their behalf.”

What a refreshing sentiment. It’s especially welcome after you’ve been wading through hyperbolic debates over whether digital books are killing off print (Wired votes yes, Salon votes no, much chest-thumping ensues). Just when you start to wonder if there’s even a point to all this back-and-forth, second-by-second analysis and the compulsive future-predicting/one-upmanship that goes with it, you’re reminded…Oh, yeah, the customer. That’s what this is about.

For Lerner, the ultimate customers are kids. I trust that no teachers or librarians worth their salt would disagree; kids are their ultimate customers too. That’s well worth bearing in mind, especially as we seek out strange new technologies and boldly go where no publisher has gone before. 

“You betcha, buddy.”

“That seems logical, does it not, Adriano Fruzzetti?”

It’s not about being right, because who’s always right? Say it with me.

Other takeaways from TOC Bologna: 

Raccah again: Digital publishing is “the democratization of print.” (This reminds me of a piece I came across a few weeks ago on the subject of mobile education in the developing world [PBS MediaShift], in which mobile video company founder Nickhil Jakatdar touted new digital learning opportunities for low-income kids “who can’t afford a face-to-face secondary or post-secondary education, or who want supplemental help in learning via video.”) 

Roberta Chinni, director of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair: “As much as today is about technology, we believe it’s also about people.” This one goes out to you teachers and librarians, lest you worry that all this “supplementing” leaves you out of the equation. Digital tools are just that–tools–and it’s the human elements you bring to them that makes them valuable in the classroom. That’s why we’re so keen to keep informed about how teachers teach techily [Pew Internet]: what resources they have and how they use them, and what they don’t have but need.

And finally, Francesca Dow, Penguin UK’s managing director: “E-books, apps, consumer products, licensing–everything works together to create an ecosystem of storytelling.” 

Doesn’t that sound healthy? An ecosystem of storytelling? An environment that’s stable but not static, where many forms of life, with many ways of doing things, coexist and complement each other–indeed, depend on each other for survival? (Don’t worry, this isn’t the part where I link to a YouTube video of “Circle of Life”…but only copyright reasons stayed my hand.)

That’s how I think of Lerner. It’s how I’d like to think of the publishing industry as a whole. I suspect our customers would approve.