A fully-searchable collection of 156 books focussing on climate change and sustainability have been made freely-accessible as part of the COP26 Virtual Book Showcase, streamed for a limited time only through the Exact Editions platform.
The showcase, which features books from fiction, non-fiction and children’s literature genres that cover topics from air pollution and economics to biodiversity and agriculture, is live until 22nd November through the link below:
Today, we’re catching up with Exact Editions’ Co-Founder Adam Hodgkin about the initiative’s origin, the reaction from the publishing industry so far and his hopes for similar projects in the future.
1. Why did Exact Editions choose to support the UN’s COP26 Meeting?
The initiative was partly a reaction to the experience of COVID. In February of this year, when we first planned this showcase, it was not obvious that there was going to be a full international meeting in Glasgow. Therefore, the project of a virtual or digital showcase seemed to be very appropriate, at least as a precaution, for two reasons; it would help to focus energy and awareness of the huge problems we face to an international audience, and be a demonstration of the relevance of publishing and books to global awareness.
It also helped us to commit our own efforts and resources to the project that we were sure that we could do it for a ‘reasonable’ number of books; 50+ felt ‘reasonable’ and ‘affordable’ for Exact Editions. We also decided that it would be and should be pro bono.
2. What was the reaction from publishers once they heard about the initiative?
The reaction was surprisingly widespread and almost uniformly positive. We also decided to grow the project incrementally (this was a way of ensuring that the project was both manageable and affordable).
The Exact Editions platform is a pure streaming platform for digital books, meaning that we could develop a steadily growing and demonstrable showcase or ‘snowball’ of books that we demo-ed to participating publishers as we went along.
It was also very impressive the way the publishers (and their authors) kept the development private and confidential (to a degree). It was also most encouraging that German and French publishers came onto the project fairly late in the development, when they heard about it in June and July.
(You can see press coverage of the initiative here).
3. How did the Exact Editions team go about organising such a large project?
The Exact Editions platform is a streaming solution that provides access to books — it is not a system for downloading whole books (as for PDFs or eBooks).
This access model simplified and sharpened the proposition for the publishers and the copyright holders. Publishers, authors, and illustrators would be agreeable to showcasing their titles for a limited period, open to the world and for free, if they could be confident that this would not be a way of giving the books away in perpetuity.
The short-term Reading Rooms with which we demo-ed the steadily growing collection of books reinforced this message. The links really do ‘expire’ on a specific date (November 22 for the COP26 Showcase). Another factor that facilitated management of the project is that we avoided taking ‘editorial’ decisions. It was fully up to the publisher to decide which books to put into their collection. One management rule that we established at the start also helped to keep the show on the road. Limiting each publisher to four titles but requiring at least and at most four titles, helped the design and overall management of the project. It meant that we had to rule out a few publishers (or they ruled themselves out) because there were only one or two relevant books in their list. But it also made the task of selecting the books more manageable for publishers who might have scores of relevant titles.
4. Are there any features of the Exact Editions platform that particularly enhance the content of the books?
The key factor that enhanced the content of the books is actually that the Exact Editions platform aims to represent all the books exactly as they are in print. The collection is rather more than the sum of its parts and for various reasons it is very difficult to make collections of digital books in other formats.
We knew that the platform would work well with books that we could database and we knew that the system would cope with big books and little books, with books with sound in them (via QR codes) or with lavish pictures, books for experts as well as books for children. Even so, it was reassuring to see how well some of the beautiful children’s books came through; and that the nearly 3,000 pages of the African Handbook of Climate Adaptation can be scrolled in thumbnails on my iPhone.
In short, one of the most useful lessons of our project is that the platform really can cope with, and successfully present, almost all kinds of books. But in a moment of modesty we must also admit that there are a few types of books that probably would defeat or perplex the Exact Editions system — pop-up books spring to mind, or books with very large fold-out maps.
5. What would success for the COP26 Virtual Showcase look like?
This is another question that calls for all round modesty. I think that all involved should be pleased with what we have achieved so far: all the publishers, authors and illustrators that are represented through the showcase and the Exact Editions team who have done much of the ‘putting it all together’.
However, the project is a very limited and finite achievement. It was set up in that spirit and that is all that we can achieve this year. In the medium to longer term, the measure of success is so much broader.
Publishers, educators, libraries and all readers have to figure out ways of mitigating and minimising the effects of climate change and digital publishing has to play some part in that. By becoming more carbon neutral but also through helping and using books in the best possible way — especially in their educational and creative way. So this may be a very, very small drop in a huge climate ocean.
6. What are your hopes for this streaming technology in the future?
I think digital books have an extraordinarily promising future as we develop more suitable ways of providing access to digital resources.
Some of the solutions will be ‘aggregative’ in the way that Spotify was able to provide massive global access to music through free, freemium and then subscription services. However, books and literature are different to music and I suspect that we will see very different models evolving: some of them free-to-access, some of them subscription-based.
One dimension that is very interesting to Exact Editions relates to ‘preservation’ and archives. The Exact Editions platform has focussed on archives in its work with magazines, so we will be keen to make our services for book publishers equally ‘future proof’. From that standpoint the future looks very promising: we will always have a need of our past.
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If you have any questions about the COP26 Virtual Book Showcase project, please contact the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.