At Singapore’s StoryDrive Asia: Proud Publishers, Digital Demands

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From Stockholm’s Bonnier with its long history to the UK’s new Canelo and the 10-year-old Wattpad, innovation is the quest at StoryDrive Asia in Singapore.
A part of the audience follows the 'Clash, Boom, Business' track in the Arts House's Gallery at StoryDrive Asia in Singapore. Image: Katharina Ewald

A part of the audience follows the ‘Clash, Boom, Business’ track in the Arts House’s Gallery at StoryDrive Asia in Singapore. Image: Katharina Ewald

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘To Reinvent the Traditional Business’
Singapore’s StoryDrive Asia is well under way in its debut outing here. The first day on Thursday (November 10) combined workshops and panel discussion with targeted presentations designed to support publishing leaders in Southeast Asia look at the opportunities in cross-media conceptualizations of their content.

StoryDrive Asia banner 300 x 100A second day is underway at press time on Friday (November 11) in which “fireside chats” bring the experiences of seasoned veterans in the field to light. The day culminates in a intensive on building readership, in the region.

While many of the publishing concerns heard from here are young—Wattpad’s Ashleigh Gardner is here, for example, as her Toronto-based company celebrates its 10th anniversary with 45 million active users monthly—longtime presence in the field honored, a well.

Anki Ahrnell. Image: Bonnier AB

Anki Ahrnell. Image: Bonnier AB

One of the most compelling bits of commentary in the first day’s program came from Anki Ahrnell, chief digital officer with Sweden’s Bonnier AB.

“Innovation is rarely something entirely new,” Ahrnell told us. “Bonnier being several hundred years old,” she said, “we have to reinvent the traditional business.” Describing this as “two parallel journeys at a time”—one of which she sees as asking “How can we help?” in regards to various stakeholders, readers and authors included.

To reinvent the traditional business,” Ahrnell said, “we have to find the pain points. And we have to be extremely good at finding the needs of the customer experience. discoverability. As Richard [Nash] said this morning, “much of publishing is a service.”

Richard Nash gives his keynote in Singapore, modeled on Steve Jobs' "Stay Hungry!" line. Image: Porter Anderson

Richard Nash gives his keynote in Singapore, modeled on Steve Jobs’ “Stay Hungry!” line. Image: Porter Anderson

Nash, the serial entrepreneur behind Soft Skull Press, Small Demons, Cursor, Red Lemonade, and other ventures, had opened the day with a keynote in which he described both the quiet beginnings of publishing—”which originally put writers out of business” because initially writers were simply people who were educated to write: scribes.

His viewpoints would be juxtaposed as sharply against some others during the day as were Ahrnell’s when Mashable’s Asian chief Victoria Ho spoke to the group during the afternoon about how various social media serve the big lifestyle news site with a means for testing very quickly which headlines and other features of a story are most effective at driving traffic.

In a panel discussion, Frankfurt’s Claudia Kaiser led several speakers in a discussion of how “internationalization” looks to them.

For Jacky Huang of Andrew Nurnberg’s trail-blazing literary agency in China, the answer had a lot to do with patience: It has taken more than a decade for this, the first traditionally positioned agency in China to gain its current traction in what is still a small field of 30 or so similar ventures there.

For Laura Prinsloo’s purview from her seat in Indonesia with Kesaint Blanc, the key seems to lie in workshops for the writer corps, training, and—the most successful effort so far—sending Indonesian authors to far-flung international locations for writing retreats in which they can immerse themselves in world viewpoints.

Wattpad's Ashleigh Gardner speaks on the 10th anniversary of the Canada-based global platform at StoryDrive Asia in Singapore. Image: Porter Anderson

Wattpad’s Ashleigh Gardner speaks on the 10th anniversary of the Canada-based global platform at StoryDrive Asia in Singapore. Image: Porter Anderson

In an extended explication of Wattpad’s special place in the publishing world today, Gardner welcomed Salman Faidi of Indonesia’s Bentang Pustaka, who is having 11 of his authors release their books in serial form on the huge international site prior to their publication, to build audience for the releases, an unusual and innovative leverage of the massive, mobile-heavy readership and marketing powerhouse based in Toronto.

And after the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)’s Singapore-based Candra Darusman gave a concise presentation of the Marrakesh Treaty that gets copyrighted material into the hands of blind and low-vision users in some 25 countries, Singapore Book Publishers Association’s Peter Schoppert revealed that Singapore has been one of the original signatories to the treaty which now is gaining new international traction.

Michael Bhaskar of the UK's Canelo Publishing, a young digital-first house, speaks at Singapore's StoryDrive Asia. Image: Porter Anderson

Michael Bhaskar of the UK’s Canelo Publishing, a young digital-first house, speaks at Singapore’s StoryDrive Asia. Image: Porter Anderson

Joining the lineup from London, Canelo’s Michael Bhaskar made the logical connectio between his digital-first publishing house’s focus on careful selection of “books we are certain can break through and be big sellers” to the recent release of his new book Curation from Little, Brown UK.

Throughout the day, the importance of curation in digitally driven efforts in publishing’s development were emphasized by many speakers and delegates.

Overall, the day’s contours brought good questions to the floor and many angles on the vast potential that the digital dynamic brings to publishing when publishers are willing to ask what being a publisher really means — and just how big a range of activity might be considered.

StoryDrive's new iteration in Singapore is held in the country's former parliament building, now called Arts House. Image: Porter Anderson

Many sessions of StoryDrive Asia in Singapore are held in the stately main chamber of the country’s former parliament building, now called Arts House. Image: Porter Anderson


Major programming leadership for the event has been provided by Frankfurt Book Fair’s Katharina Ewald, Claudia Kaiser, and consultant Britta Friedrich. The event is collaboratively organized by Frankfurt Book Fair and the Singapore Book Publishers Association’s Peter Schoppert. Additional support is provided by the Goethe-Institut and the Singapore National Arts Council.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. Prior to that he was Associate Editor for The FutureBook, a channel at The Bookseller focused on digital publishing. Anderson has also worked with CNN International, CNN.com, CNN USA, the Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and other media.

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