Editorial: Where Is Publishing’s Jet Pack?

In Editorial & Opinion by Edward Nawotka

By Edward Nawotka

Edward Nawotka

Edward Nawotka

Back in the 20th century, visions of the future included people zooming around sleek cities with their own personal jet packs. Alas, that vision has yet to be realized. Has publishing yet seen a whiz-bang technology with the “wow” factor we need to propel the book itself into the future?

Innovation is a buzzword that gets thrown around a lot in publishing, but wanton use of the word has diminished it. What does publishing innovation really look like? Is it, as some would have you believe, adding perforations to coloring books? Adding live web links inside book apps? Or perhaps using 3D printing to produce book covers?

Yes, all of those new ideas are interesting in their own way, but none of them are, as many a hyperbolic startup company has over-promised, truly “disruptive.”

What publishing really needs is the proverbial “jet pack,” the space-age innovation that will propel books and reading culture into the next era.

This year in November the Dutch aim to give it a shot. This summer, the Dutch Publishers Association put out a call to startups around the world to submit proposals for their “Renew the Book” project.

Under the program, five companies will be invited this November to live and work in Amsterdam for 40 days, all expenses paid, to collaborate with publishers and come up with new ideas to address how people will develop, distribute and devour books in the future. At the end of the project, one winner will be awarded 15,000 euros to implement their idea.

“It is like an extended hackathon, all expenses paid, with a big prize at the end,” Martijn David, Secretary General of the Association, told me yesterday in the Frankfurt Book Fair’s Business Club (the Fair’s own recent innovation).

The selected projects will be announced later this month. Next year, you’re guaranteed to see the winning project on display here in Frankfurt, when the Netherlands and Flanders take the spotlight as the 2016 Guest of Honor.

Maybe, just maybe, publishing will finally find its “jet pack.”

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.