What are the key ingredients we all need to remember to use when facing this uncertain future? The question arises out of The Bookseller’s digital conference, FutureBook 2012, where 600 delegates from across the book spectrum met to discuss and understand where we have come from, where we might be heading, and how we can get there.
There were debates on the “future publisher”, how agents should evolve, pricing, and on how best to use consumer insight—there was even an argument about DRM, reflective not of a violent disagreement but of how seemingly fixed notions can be challenged as the markets develop.
Amid the advice for publishers on what they “should do”, Pottermore chief executive Charlie Redmayne set the tenor for the day, pointing out what we had done well. Redmayne is right. It is easy, with the pace we all now move at, to forget about our successes. Put simply, we’ve moved from a business that was 90% print to one that is 30% digital in barely a year, and without a haemorrhage to the eco-system. You won’t read about this in the popular press, but that was because of the hard work put in over the years getting things such as standards, metadata and digital file conversion tools right.
But having got here, we now need to move forwards. Some of the more interesting debates at FutureBook 2012 focused on the need to reinvent a new type of digitally-native product fit for how writers will want to write and how readers will want to read in the future. A key phrase that I heard repeated throughout was the desire to put editorial judgement first: to back editors as the industry’s “secret weapon”. But I would broaden this, since ingenuity and innovation must not be confined to just one area.
Our collaboration with Foyles to re-imagine the bookshop using Foyles’ new 40,000 sq ft flagship as the template is an example of this. By crowdsourcing ideas across the trade, we believe we can redefine the role played by high street bookshops in this part-digital world.
We are at a moment where the future is not fixed; a time when what we do and how we do it can change perceptions and business models. If we fail, it will not be because we lacked the skill, or the structure, or even the finance, but simply because we lacked the imagination, and possibly the conviction to see it through.