Geek Camp 3

25 May 2010 in Future of Publishing

Last week I went along to Geek Camp 3 at Free Word - my first time at this event.  Lots of opportunities to talk to people, set up to encourage discussion around key topics - this worked really well for me as I have a stupid tendency to talk to people I already know at these events, and I managed to break that habit at Geek Camp 3.  There were some interesting presentations too - from the Literary Platform people, looking for ideas about how to manage the success of their project, as well as how to create revenue from it; and also from the Lazarus Project, a fascinating look at Cambridge University Press and its very successful print-on-demand resurrections from its 450 years of accumulated backlist.

The Lazarus Project (which doesn’t seem to have a website) takes books from this backlist, gets them scanned in India, copyedits, tidies up the file, and reproduces original cover here in the UK, and makes them available for between £15-20 as print-on-demand.  Alistair Horne, the speaker, said they only need to sell 4 or 5 copies to make this financially viable.  He used the example of a splendid book called ‘The Complete Bibliography of Sponges: 1598 to 1754’ which they had brought back to life - and have now sold 22 copies.  An interesting look at the potential economics around print on demand for backlist titles.  Tell me again how publishers figure a royalty of 25% on ebooks - which, afterall, remain as a digital file so don’t even have printing costs -  is fair? 

It was a good evening, but I came away with a weariness about our endless discussions about the future of publishing - and I’m not a publisher, lord knows how they stomach it.  For the time being, when it comes to these kinds of events and discussions, I’m going to try to focus more clearly on writing - the future of literature, what literature and good writing can offer in the digital age.  Good writing, and good reading - these are the things that matter to me.  How will we read in the future?  Will the novel as we know it today fundamentally change?  Is the investment we writers ask of our readers worth it?  I’m not talking about the £7.99 - or less - you hand over to buy a book, print or digital.  I’m talking about the hours and hours readers spend with our work - the time they spend reading.  No other cultural producers require such a huge investment of time.  Opera might be long, but it’s nothing compared to reading a novel.  Does this matter?  Will this change?


orwellski, 25 May 2010, 10:58 AM

It’s not an ‘investment’ is it? It is pleasure from moment moment, endlessly renewed or else hard work for eventual reward: just like playing a game. No one ever talks about the investment of hundreds of hours to get to level x of ’ warrior bloodfest 97’ do they? If you read, you’re probably at home and at ease. If at the opera, you are at a theatre surrounded by the sort of people who go to the opera: no wonder it seems long…..I am reading David Copperfield at the moment: it’s endless! Thank Clapton.

Kate, 25 May 2010, 12:28 PM

Thanks for your comment orwellski.  You are right, ‘investment’ is not a good word here; and of course your parallel with time spent playing a game is a good analogy.  I guess I’m attempting to think about what it means to read in a world where there are multiple media demands on our time.  And also, wondering about how introducing multimedia into fiction might change the way we read.  No answers here - just speculation.  And as someone who writes multimedia works of fiction as well as novels, I’m interested to see how these things develop over the next decade.  Kate

pressfuturist, 20 July 2010, 09:45 AM

Kate, Thanks for the write-up of my talk on the Lazarus Project; I’m really glad you enjoyed it. You’re right that we don’t currently have a website devoted to the project, but I’m hoping that this will change when our new Cambridge site is launched in a few months. meanwhile, all the individual books that have been republished can be found in our catalogue at .

Kate, 21 July 2010, 11:38 AM

Hi Press Futurist - I’ll keep an eye out for your new website.  I’ve mentioned the Lazarus Project in several talks lately, so it would be great to have a url to be able to point people to.  Kate

pressfuturist, 21 July 2010, 12:29 PM

Kate, what we do currently have is a video on youtube about the other, similar project I spoke about: the Cambridge Library Collection. It’s at if that’s of any interest. Thank you so much for mentioning the project in your talks!

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