I attended the O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing  (TOC) conference this past Tuesday and learned about a topic that captivates me: new forms that books are able to take when they are conceived as e-books. There is so much creative work being done in this area that I often want to hold it up to show those who think we are an industry in turmoil. An industry in transition, yes, but with many bright minds at work moving us in exciting new directions.
Here’s a quick look at some highlights:
Fabienne Riener  of Sourcefabric  and Adam Hyde  of Esetera talked about Book Sprints . The process is based on Booktype , an open source platform for collaborative book writing, editing and publishing. A Book Sprint involves getting together a group of experts in a particular area, locking them in a room (preferably one in a resort with good cooking facilities) and jointly conceiving, structuring and writing a book in five days.
Wow. I’m in! If someone will offer to foot the bill for the room and board, I’ll organize a Book Sprint. Shoot me an email ([email protected] ). I have a topic in mind!
Søren Peter Sørensen , a project manager at Danish company Systime , presented something he called “Service Publishing.” What his company creates is something they call an Internet book. It’s not an e-book. It’s not an app. It’s not a website. Well, he confessed a bit later, it is kind of a website, one with licensed access and all kinds of cool interactive features. Sørensen calls it database publishing, single-source publishing and also multi-platform output publishing. What goes in can come out in any format and on any device required or requested.
Systime’s clients are using the system primarily for educational books. The content is behind a pay wall, but once you’ve entered, pages are in plain text so you can use the content to your own liking and integrate it with other tools. It has systems for interaction at all stages: author/editor, student/teacher, and more. Much of it is built on open-source platforms.
What they mean by service publishing is providing “educational materials as a service.” You don’t just sell a book and then the transaction is over. All the involved parties are online together and the book keeps evolving. As an author you can keep developing and expanding your book even as it is in use. (Visit their website  and view the video below to see how it works.)
And finally, I was very engaged by a presentation by Meagan Timney , Senior Product Designer at Blurb, Inc., about UX (user experience) . Integrating UX into the creation of digital books, she says, is a holistic and non-linear process. It’s something of an agile model. She suggested a scenario where one would release a chapter of a book, see how users respond, and then integrate that knowledge into future chapters. Wow again!
Timney described aspects of the UX process in some detail, displaying an impressive understanding and having some fun with the packed room by using the example of a bacon cookbook as a model.
All in all, we have models here for books that are interactive, responsive to users (heretofore known as readers), collaboratively generated, instantly published, and flexible and adjustable as opposed to fixed on a static page.
O brave new world that has such books in it!