Today at Tech Forum in Canada: Taking Advantage of Change

In News by Carla Douglas

Across a broad range of topics for conference, today’s Tech Forum in Toronto is geared to exploring how ‘to take advantage of the opportunities created by technological change to reach readers.’

At BookNet Canada’s Tech Forum 2018. Image: Tech Forum video

By Carla Douglas | @CarlaJDouglas

‘Communities Willing to Share’
Today (March 20), BookNet Canada’s Tech Forum is onstage in Toronto, this year with a focus on change in the book industry.

Topics this week include discoverability, diversity, audiobooks, podcasting, metadata, artificial intelligence, and retailing, and the agenda represents a broad range of publishing interests.

Drawing between 250 and 300 attendees from both the creative and technological sides of publishing, Tech Forum is billed as “the largest tech-focused professional development event in the Canadian publishing industry,” and the 2019 event, as in recent years, has sold out.  Tech Forum is preceded by ebookcraft, a two-day conference dedicated to the production of digital books.

For today’s preview, Publishing Perspectives has spoken with Noah Genner, CEO and president of BookNet Canada.

Publishing Perspectives: Can you put the event into the context of the evolving Canadian market? How does Tech Forum support both the technological community and the creative industries?

Noah Genner

Noah Genner: I think that as the Canadian market has more fully adopted, and integrated, technology and/or digital into its processes, it has needed to evolve to take advantage of the opportunities created by technological change to reach readers.

Book reading and sales appear to be down in many of the markets in Canada and as such the industry must adapt to reach existing and new audiences. This evolution has also required us to evolve the programming for Tech Forum. It’s now much more about how to make sure we’re using all the tools available to reach our audiences in the ways they want and with the content they demand.

Tech Forum works by having a great mix of attendees and speakers from across a wide range of different areas—both in the creative and books world and in the technology world–not to mention having retailers, libraries, associations, and others all in the room together, as that just doesn’t happen here that often.

It always surprises and delights me that we have communities so willing to share with one another. I’m not sure of another conference in Canada (at least in the book sector) that continually brings such a large group together to work on solving common problems.

That’s a long way of me saying I think we support the industries by allowing them to collaborate and share together in an open-forum.

PP: What are the origins of Tech Forum—how has it developed, and when did it become part of a three-day event?

NG: Tech Forum as a standalone conference has been going since 2007–12 years. However, we ran a similar conference that was included in the educational programming at BookExpo Canada when it was still going. I believe we did that for two to three years previous to us forming Tech Forum as a standalone conference.

The overall mission has remained pretty much the same over the years and that is to focus on change in the Canadian book sector. The early years were very much focused on the impact, or potential impact, of technology on the book sector, but we’ve branched out to cover more areas of change now as our capacity has grown and our stakeholders have asked for more.

We now have programming dealing with marketing, accessibility, diversity and inclusivity, and many other topics, but all remain grounded in the idea of change. The main Tech Forum day is programmed by BookNet Canada in consultation with the industry.

We were instrumental in bringing awareness of ebooks and EPUB to the Canadian market through Tech Forum and other events, and focused on that area when it was an area of change and concern for the book industry. As this area has become more integrated into the book sector’s workflows and business models we were looking for a forum to help publishers and tech professionals continue to grow their ebook capabilities and this is where ebookcraft—a separate conference within Tech Forum—came from.

This was also when we expanded to three days—that was five years ago. Ebookcraft is a conference focused on the production of ebooks, but it covers many other aspects of the ebook world. We run it in partnership with eBOUND and a group of ebook production professionals, see #eprdctn on Twitter. It’s programmed by a committee composed of members from the three organizations.

At BookNet Canada’s Tech Forum 2018. Image: Tech Forum video

‘Evolved Programming’

PP: Who are Tech Forum’s sponsors? Have you been heading it since the beginning?

NG: The presenting sponsors are BookNet Canada, the Department of Canadian Heritage, Literary Press Group and eBOUND (for ebookcraft). Other sponsors include Rakuten Kobo, Brady Type, Scenarex, Penguin Random House Canada, and others.

BookNet itself is partially funded by Heritage and they contribute to most of our projects, including ebookcraft and Tech Forum. The conference is funded by a mix of ticket sales, public funding, and BookNet.

I wasn’t the CEO of BookNet when it started, but I was here and involved in some form (usually presenting) from the beginning. The BookNet staff are the drivers of the conference—they do the programming for Tech Forum and ebookcraft (with eBOUND) and run all the events.

PP: What about current issues? What kinds of challenges are participants seeing; what are they coming to Tech Forum to learn?

NG: The audience is a mix of publishing people, technologists, retailers and public libraries. Which happens to mirror BookNet’s stakeholders. The largest group is definitely publishing people, but we do get a pretty good mix. We want the different groups to learn and discuss together—it’s one of our founding principles and is something we feel benefits our industry immensely. Diversity of thought and practice.

I think the issues [and challenges] are laid out in our programming, but if I were to boil it down to a few it would be:

  • How to drive discoverability and awareness
  • Being more efficient
  • Giving readers and buyers what they want
  • The importance of diversity
  • Accessibility to content
  • Technology and data.

That’s more than a few.

The above video is produced by BookNet Canada’s Tech Forum to promote this year’s iteration of the event.

More from Publishing Perspectives on BookNet Canada and Tech Forum is here, and more from us on the Canadian market–which will be featured as Frankfurter Buchmesse Guest of Honor in 2020–is here.

About the Author

Carla Douglas

Carla Douglas is a writer and editor, and most recently is the author of You’ve Got Style: A Writer’s Guide to Copyediting. She was a contributing researcher for the first edition of The Oxford Guide to Canadian English Usage, and is co-author of the Don’t Panic series of literacy resources for high school students.