The Salon du livre et de la presse jeunesse is an annual children's book fair for both publishers and young readers held just outside of Paris in Montreuil, this year from December 1–6. It is, of course, a haven of book perusal, book buying, and author and illustrator signings. However, a conference that occurred on the last day of the fair delved into that precarious territory beyond the pages: new media. A four-person panel discussed the topic of New Technologies: Publishing, Animation and Crossmedia. The panel represented varied points of view, including those of Nathalie Becht, director of Bayard's Pôle Enfance; Valérie Bourgoin, head of digital creations and video games at the CNC (acronym for Centre National du Cinéma); Sophie Caron, head of multimedia and audiovisual at Nathan Jeunesse; and Lewis Trondheim, author and director of the Shampooing imprint at Éditions Delcourt.
The topics at hand were ones that everyone connected to the industry has been fretting about: how to adapt for the iPad, getting original material for the iPhone, the marketing possibilities therein, and the focal point: how to merge the publishing world with the technological one without betraying the book?
The word "emerging" was, of course, much bandied about. No one quite has the answer, but a foundation for technology and readership is making headway in France. The CNC, a subset of the Ministère de la Culture, which gives grants to help media projects get realized, especially supports concepts built specifically for these media. While not particularly relevant to publishing, Bourgoin of the CNC represented the fact that creative spheres, as a whole, are more and more receptive to projects built for new technologies.
Trondheim, author of the daily comic strip Bludzee (which was initially created for the iPhone, Blackberry, and Internet, though eventually culled into a book) cited new technology in publishing as quite “Anglo-Saxon,” given that the pace of advancement and integration is much faster in the U.S. and the U.K. He wrote six squares a day over the course of one year, and the results were translated into 18 languages. He admitted the project wasn't very lucrative, but interesting, and lamented the lack of visibility his project got in Europe, noting that in South Korea, people can really live off of this kind of effort. However, he believes this sort of project is going to get more and more visibility, saying—or warning, rather—that “editors have cause to be worried—authors can now find their own readers,” thanks to the diffusion that the applications provide.
Caron at Nathan Jeunesse started off her commentary by saying that from a publishing point of view, the biggest boon of technology is the marketing and promotion—it's a driving force in generating interest about titles. Tchoupi and Le Jeu au Loup, already hugely successful books, were launched into the virtual sphere, and are doing very well. She broke down the technological landscape, noting that the iPhone has the better market, though the iPad is more adapted for e-publishing. She cited the CD-ROM from 15 years ago as a predecessor, albeit one that has swiftly become outdated since the world has adapted to these sleeker, zippier new platforms. Each development requires new technological work and provides new opportunities to connect to readers on that platform.
One audience member interjected that these new technologies don't seem to have changed all that much from the CD-ROM, except that they cost a lot more and the experience feels more reductive, given that the screen is significantly smaller. Caron's rebuttal was at the ready: a defense of the tactile experience of the screen, compared to just shuffling a mouse with a CD-ROM, and citing its portability for car trips and travel. Caron was emphatic that these tools are for a complementary universe, one not meant to replace books. Moreover, she drew a firm line between the e-book and the interactive games—which have audio and animation—that are cropping up in conjunction with book and e-book publications. They use the same platform as Wii or Nintendo, she said, but have better content, with engaging instead of numbing functions. Plus, the technological platform enables immediate feedback from consumers.
Caron acknowledged, however, that “authors are quite terrified.” Since the price is so low in app stores, the apps have to sell by volume to be successful, and since it’s an “emerging” phenomenon, that makes it difficult to predict how many they’re going to sell. Authors do sometimes refuse to participate in the new technology, she admitted. What really has started to work already, she says, are titles that are doing well outside the technological sphere, that is to say as books, and classic fairytales are another frontier Caron expects will be successful on the iPad and iPhone.
Becht of Bayard's Pôle Enfance reinforced Caron’s point, noting that titles that already had success as books had a fan base from which to build. SamSam is a character that has grown exponentially: initially part of a children's magazine, he grew to books, a TV show, Web sites (his own, as well as one on Bayardkids), merchandise—his own sprawling universe, which is fairly atypical in France. This kind of omnipresence is the objective, according to Becht—creating a bond to the character that makes the children committed to him/her in all these different forms. She described the evolution of Polo into the new Polo Studio: an online choose your own story, at the end of which you produce your own virtual work through the choices you make, which you can revisit, reread and share with friends.
While the conference concluded on a somewhat uncertain note as to how new technology and publishing could happily marry, certain elements were quite clear, namely the pursuit of omnivore marketing for 2D and 3D and the widening of the universe beyond the book to games and animation, whether its purpose is playful or instructive. Trondheim was the figure who spoke most centrally of the global possibilities. Not only does the new technology open up the book in a national way, but more significantly, in the global arena. Hopefully, the vastness of online publishing will allow a more international exchange, both regarding literary content and even the very nature of contemporary publishing as it evolves in these new contexts.