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Posted by Tom, March 20, 2012

Tools of Change

A lot of Nosy Crow are at Bologna this week (as anyone who follows Kate on Twitter will know!) – hard at work selling rights, meeting authors, illustrators and agents, and looking for exciting new talents to add to our brilliant list. I’m back in London already, after a flying visit that lasted just long enough for me to climb the Asinelli Tower (here’s the pretty spectacular view from the top), hang out at the Nosy Crow stand on Monday (here it is immediately after being constructed by Adrian and Leen) and, most important of all, attend the Tools of Change conference on Sunday.

The View from the Asinelli Tower (photograph by Leen)

Tools of Change is a great chance to meet up with, and listen to, some of the most interesting people working in digital publishing: there were brilliant keynotes by, amongst others, Dominique Raccah, President of Sourcebooks, Junko Yokota, professor of children’s literature at National-Louis University, and a particularly inspirational (and moving) closing speech by Elizabeth Wood, Director of Digital Publishing for Worldreader, a non-profit whose mission is to make digital books available to all in the developing world.

An image from Elizabeth Wood’s incredible keynote presentation

And Kate spoke too, sharing Nosy Crow’s experience of a year of creating, marketing and working with translation partners on our own apps.

The conference also provides a fascinating snapshot of the state of digital publishing: there are break-out sessions through-out the day, and in between attending these, hearing the keynotes, and chatting to fellow publishers over lunch, a strong impression emerges of the biggest anxieties and interests of the industry.

The pre-eminent theme of the day seemed to be, by quite some margin, discoverability – that is, how to make your digital content visible (in particularly on the app store on iTunes). There were several sessions devoted entirely to this issue (a particularly interesting – and popular – talk by Hermes Piqué, CEO of Robot Media was entitled “The Discovery Problem: Getting your Book app noticed in the App Store”, and was standing-room only), but it also came up over and over in other events on seemingly unrelated subjects. It’s not a subject confined to Tools of Change, either – the crux of the problem was articulated unimprovably at an event at BAFTA I attended last week, at which Peter Sleeman, co-director of P2 Games (which makes the Peppa Pig apps), observed that app developers are putting their products in the world’s largest shop, with the world’s smallest shop window.

And there were some interesting (though not unexpected) corollaries to this subject: apps with big brands (like Peppa Pig) are particularly valuable as they’re more easily found and parents are more likely to search for them, for instance. Piqué spoke engagingly about things like keywords, poor search functionality on iTunes (“Apple does search like Google does tablets”) and the importance of elements of app design that are often overlooked or given little thought – like an app’s icon, which, as the first thing a potential customer will see, is critically important, and should – according to Piqué – “be simple but detailed, and tell a story without words”.

After discoverability and branding, the next most-recurring topic seemed to have been cross-platform functionality. In the week in which Apple launched the next iPad, thereby maintaining its position as market leader in the tablet sector for the foreseeable future, a source of interest for a lot of publishers and developers was how seriously they ought to be treating iOS-alternatives (and how feasible it is to create multi-platform content). At the moment, our apps are only available on Apple devices, which is as much to do with issues of practicality – devoting the time to convert our existing apps for Android tablets would mean less time making brand new apps – as any other reason, but other speakers raised interesting points in favour of iOS (mostly revolving around the fact that there is simply a much larger potential market).

If anyone is interested in how the rest of the day went (and it was very interesting!) there’s a storify post made up from @NosyCrowApps’ live-tweeting of the day that you can find below – and if you were at Tools of Change, or are interested in any of these ideas, please leave your comments below!

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