The publishing industry loves a good story. Conference sessions, blog posts, trade publications, and water cooler chats tend to focus on heroic tales of startups rocketing to financial success (or flaming out) and epic accounts of legacy institutions battling it out with new technology giants.

There’s more to the story of innovation, however. Innovation happens across the book industry, often so slowly and quietly it doesn’t elicit great fanfare—as is usually the case with association-backed research projects—and sometimes so fast and furious that you might miss it if you blink, as with the recent spate of book publishing hack-a-thons.

Innovation in publishing is taking place in many forms, and one that seems to be growing in popularity is collaborative innovation. With this in mind, PW has compiled profiles of a few intriguing and innovative collaborative book publishing and media programs, starting with the following group of organizations located in the E.U. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and we hope it inspires those who care about publishing to seek out innovation and collaborate in order to foster it.


ProtoType is a project developed by the companies of the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels’ Future Forum—an innovation lab tasked with identifying and exploring technology’s effects on the publishing industry. ProtoType uses collaboration and experimentation to develop skills among industry professionals and to come up with new products and services from the industry, for the industry.

The concept for ProtoType originated with Dorothee Werner and Michael Schneider of the Börsenverein. “Michael and I had the idea to build up something like a seed camp or a real incubator,” Werner says. “We wanted no more talking—we wanted doing, applied innovation. We ended up with ProtoType.”

Now entering its fourth year, ProtoType accepts up to 30 applicants each year from all sectors of the German publishing industry. The 30 young innovators (most ProtoType members are between the ages of 25 and 45) meet for the first time at the Leipzig Book Fair in March, where they brainstorm about ideas for products and services.

Program leaders form teams based on participants’ individual skills (IT wizards are matched with communicators, e.g.). The teams continue to meet throughout the year, both virtually and in person (in conjunction with various German book fairs), and move quickly from their first proposals to successive phases of implementation.

“A key component of the program is the use of design thinking—incorporating rapid iterations and collaborative approaches to problem-solving,” Werner says. The outcome of each ProtoType group’s work is presented at the Book Days Berlin meeting in June and at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October.

ProtoType’s goals are twofold: to create viable products and services for the publishing industry, and to allow publishing professionals to develop important skills. “Team building, teamwork, and effective project management are central elements, and so is the act of making innovations visible and understandable by presenting them in front of professional audiences,” Werner says.

The Börsenverein covers most expenses for participants, who pay only for their travel. Products and services that originated in previous ProtoTypes have included the following:

Fly Up: A game-based, digital collaborative platform that allows publishers, authors, and others to post proposals for projects to a community of users. Once an idea is on the site, members of the Fly Up community can comment on it or collaborate with the user who proposed it. If a proposal does not reach its goals for a successful launch in a given amount of time, it is retired to a virtual graveyard. Gaming incentives are used for proposals that succeed in launching at various stages of their development.

Agent Me: A platform aimed at promoting rights opportunities for front- and backlist titles. Potential rights buyers can prescreen available titles digitally.

Book Alive: A plug-and-play augmented reality tool for books. Publishers can easily incorporate AR components into any title, which is then made available via the Book Alive site.

BookVibes: A book discovery platform that employs “emotional book search” to help readers find the right book. Akin to mood-based music sets, BookVibes lets readers assemble “book tracks” by sentiment, allowing them to save, share, and purchase the titles as a set.

Technology and Innovation for Smart Publishing (TISP)

Launched in January 2013, TISP is a three-year project aimed at fostering communication and collaboration between European publishers and technologists in hopes of developing mutually beneficial business models, policies, and practices. TISP is an international platform that allows tech and publishing companies to partner on market analyses, business case studies, and product and service innovations via professional meetings, research opportunities, and networking channels.

TISP was created through a partnership between two preexisting groups—the European Federation of Publishers (EFP) and DigitalEurope (a European association of digital technologists). The result is a good balance between international and national influences. The partnership includes some research institutions with both tech and publishing expertise, as well as the organizers of three of the most important book fairs in the world (the Frankfurt and London fairs and the Bologna Children’s Book Fair).

Since TISP’s launch, its membership has grown to include 25 organizations from 12 European countries (Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, United Kingdom). It has also collaborated with other relevant networks, such as the NEM initiative, which is a platform for collaboration between consumer electronics, broadcasting, and telecom companies to drive growth in networked and electronic media.

TISP’s funding comes to an end in 2015, but the organization is exploring a few possibilities to maintain and build upon the results it has achieved so far.

Labo l’Edition

The goal of Le Labo de l’Edition (the Publishing Laboratory) is to help those working in the traditional publishing sector to adapt to the challenges created by digital publishing. Its program of events brings together members of the entire publishing community—from startups and technologists to authors and readers.

Labo is based in Paris and its headquarters consists of two floors: one for events and meetings and one dedicated to startups that have been accepted into the Labo incubation program.

Labo was developed by and is funded by the city of Paris, and it’s operated by the Laboratoire Paris Région Innovation. Labo’s core principle is collaboration. Partnerships make up a huge part of its strategy for continued growth, and public and private entities help determine the direction of the organization’s growth.

Labo hosts several educational, networking, and professional development events that are open to anyone. These include debates, demo days, workshops, classes, hack-a-thons, and presentations, and the events can be put together by individuals, organizations, and companies.

In addition, Labo organizes think tanks around specific publishing industry topics and sponsors white papers and discussion panels on subjects relevant to book publishers. It also provides flexible coworking space for publishing professionals.

Labo also runs an incubator program for publishing-related startups. Companies that are accepted receive support services of various kinds, including training and help with processes and contacts, and Labo hosts events for participants with members of the Paris incubators community. Participants can also benefit from Paris Innovation Amorçage funding of up to €30,000.

Nicolas Rodelet, who runs Labo, recently told Publishing Perspectives that the organization will soon open participation in its offerings to media verticals other than publishing: “With the evolution of the sector, the borders are disappearing between publishing and other areas.... All this is pushing us towards a larger range of startups and partnerships.”

In the same article, Rodelet laments the lack of active participation in Labo from larger trade publishers: “The enterprise has been entirely successful, [apart from] the disappointment that major players in the publishing world such as Hachette [and] Editis have not yet joined as partners and are still sitting on the fence.”