On Wednesday, September 25, six speakers in six different cities around the world gave related presentations loosely organized around the effects of the digital transition on publishing, entrepreneurship, and the power of collaboration. Intended as the launch of BookMachine.me, a social media–driven database and skills exchange for book publishing professionals, this global event also served to highlight the informal, almost easy internationalism of an industry now transformed by digital technology.
While technology has made it easier than ever to respond to a global demand for content, it’s also created a free-floating international network of digital professionals—editors, designers, publicists, marketers, developers, and programmers—all enabled and connected by the Web, Skype, Google Hangout, and an ever-growing arsenal of laptops, smartphones, and tablet devices. These remote workers are as likely to be working on a project based thousands of miles away as they are to be commuting to a job in their home city. And that’s where BookMachine comes in.
Started in London two years ago by Laura Austin, an editor and executive who has worked at Pearson, Cengage, and Oxford University Press, and Gavin Summers, who has worked as a digital services manager at Hodder Education and as a multimedia project manager at Pearson, BookMachine aimed to host events that would bring isolated book professionals together for a social meetup, a drink or two, and shop talk.
“We started it as a way to meet people in the book business,” Summers says during a phone interview from the U.K. “We came up with an idea for a Web site that would showcase publishing professionals and their skills.” Austin kept the meetups going after she moved to Brighton, “to keep in touch” with her London network of publishing friends. “Then it just escalated,” she says. “People told their friends, social media opened it up even more, and BookMachine became a natural place for keeping up with people.” BookMachine events were held in New York, Brighton, Barcelona, and elsewhere. People began using the meetups to network, Summers says, offering one another jobs or acting as a floating bulletin board.
“BookMachine became more than a social gathering,” says Summers, “and the Web site was a reaction to what was happening at the meetups.” When BookMachine meetup members moved—Austin noted one left for Canada, while another former publishing college moved to New York City—they stayed connected by starting branches of BookMachine in their respective towns. The result is BookMachine.me, an online database of publishing professionals that lists their skills and experience, available for browsing and finding the right person for the right publishing job. “We want to be the place where people go to find professionals with the skills they want,” Summers says.
To launch the BookMachine database, Summers and Austin organized a Global Launch Night, with simultaneous events in six cities—London, New York, Brighton, Oxford, Barcelona, and Toronto—all on one night, each with a publisher-sponsor, a host and a featured speaker. At the New York event, held in a midtown bar in front of small but enthusiastic group, the speaker, Brett Sandusky, founder of Bdigital Media Labs, a digital consultancy, gave a short overview of the new world of digital content, urging publishers to focus on “the people who use your products and what you have to do to force them to be your customers.”
In Barcelona, the event was hosted by Maria Cardona, a digital marketer at Malpaso Ediciones. The speaker was Julietta Lionetti, a digital publishing consultant, who gave a talk entitled On How Freakin’ Techies Taught Me to Love Literature Again. Cardona says she organized the first of several BookMachine meetups in Barcelona, a city where “there were no events for publishing professionals. It really helped people connect.” In Brighton, the Global Launch was hosted and sponsored by Anna Lewis, founder of CompletelyNovel, a POD self-publishing platform, and Valobox, a browser-based publishing platform for publishers. The speaker was Julia Knightsford, CEO of World Book Night, the annual and popular global book reading event.
“We’re always looking across borders and working with POD vendors like Lightning Source in the U.S. and the U.K.,” Lewis says during a phone interview from Brighton. “We have people using using CompletelyNovel from all the place looking to access markets in the U.S. and Britain. We send books out on a global scale.” Pointing to the value of BookMachine for connecting people, Lewis says “we recommend people from everywhere and we look for people who can transact globally and easily. We want to find the most effective way of matching skills and services.”
“I’ve met people at BookMachine meetups that offer great perspective on book marketing or digital projects,” Lewis says, “BookMachine allows you to connect specifically with people and freelancers doing entrepreneurial stuff in publishing that are not constrained by legacy infrastructure or geographical location.”
The Oxford Global Launch Event was just the latest BookMachine meetup hosted by Charly Ford, who works at Osprey Publishing, the Oxford-based publisher of military history titles. Osprey, she tells PW, has authors and illustrators all over the world and she’s hosted five BookMachine events and called the venture/meetup, “a fantastic way of bringing together publishing people here in Oxford.” Ford added, “in this day with technology there’s no need to be in the same time zone with the people you work with. You can find the right people and relationships wherever you need them.”
BookMachine is free to use and has amassed a database of about 2,500 publishing professionals, Austin says, based all over the world. The site also offers a recommendation engine—members can recommend up to five people; whose rankings will rise. There’s also a subscription option that will also boost a member’s ranking on the site. “We want to be the yellow pages of book publishing,” Austin says.