The first ever FutureBook Conference commère Sandeep Mahal quizzes 10 panel chairs.
How important is it that the book business continues to focus on the digital future?
Porter Anderson: It must continue to focus on the digital future because that’s all there is. Even print is evolving into a creature of digital, as POD becomes the obvious answer to warehouses full of unsold books, but beyond such obvious elements, there simply is nothing that digital doesn’t impinge on going forward. The industry is digital, which doesn’t mean that it has gotten “to the other side”, but simply that the distributional engines of the world ahead are all—and rightly—digital.
Tom Bonnick: The most important thing—for trade publishing, at least— is that we don’t become complacent. Firstly, because we should be thinking about digital in terms of the opportunities it offers, rather than in terms of the threat it represents. And secondly, because “digital” does not equal “e-books”. There is so much for us to consider within the catch-all term “digital” beyond the most simple commodity product.
Jo Ellis: In one word, very. While digital technologies are woven into, and increasingly underpin, every aspect of the industry supply chain, nothing stands still. The pace of digital and technological development continues to accelerate and it is crucial that we, as an industry, come together to debate and to be challenged and inspired by industry colleagues and, perhaps more importantly, by people and organisations from outside of the sector.
Molly Flatt: There is no such thing as “the digital future”. There is just the future, and digital is an inevitable part of that. The divisions we make between the digital and physical will increasingly blur and dissolve, so the book business—like all businesses—has to focus on evolving to suit how we will read, write, buy and communicate in a hybrid world where digital is not digital, it’s just a seamless part of the way we live.
Alison Jones: We are cheerfully multichannel: print, e-book, app, e-learning, online database . . . I don’t think getting hung up on print versus digital is helpful. Obviously, as most people increasingly access most of the content they consume digitally, it’s vital for publishers to be taking an active creative role developing that space. That doesn’t have to happen at the expense of print—there is still space for innovation there and print books can complement online content brilliantly.
Sara Lloyd: The digital future is less clear than it has ever been. That makes it all the more imperative that we focus on what it will mean for authors and readers and the space in between them. The rise (and potentially fall) of the e-book as we know it is the least interesting thing we have to consider; future opportunities and threats will no doubt be digital, and they will come from leftfield. We would be wise to keep our eyes firmly peeled and fixed on the horizon.
Peter Meyers: It is an existential imperative . . . not to mention a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shape the future of books. Print is not going away. But the new materials, connection points and creative possibilities are just too rich to forgo experimentation.
Richard Mollet: It is not just important, it is essential, not only for the future of digital products and services, but the digital supply chain and infrastructure.
Samantha Rayner: As consumers of books become more connected via a global online network of readers and texts, the digital realm will continue to develop as a key context for “the three Ds”: Dissemination, Discoverability and Discussion. But the digital future does not just mean e-books. “The three D” environment also holds huge creative opportunities for supporting new print books, too.
(From left) Anderson, Bonnick, Ellis, Flatt and Jones.
What are the key digital challenges facing the trade?
PA: The “Wall of Content” is the challenge—simply the sheer amount. Think of how many more books were out this year on Super Thursday. What does a reader make of 503 titles dumped into a bookstore on a single day? How can anyone comprehend all this content?
TB: For the children’s industry, establishing a market. Digital still represents a negligible percentage of sales . . . I don’t think it’s great if we entirely ignore the possibilities of digital publishing for kids just because there aren’t many commercially viable product forms yet.
JE: The concentration of power in the hands of one very powerful player; the challenge of monetising writing beyond the e-book; how to create value and stand out in an age of entertainment abundance.
MF: For publishers, resisting the urge to be entirely consumer-led. For retailers, creating a seamless on/offline discovery and purchasing process. For writers, combining the investment and mentoring of traditional publishing with a self-driven start-up mentality.
AJ: The ubiquity of content and the scarcity of attention. Books have traditionally been the place for in-depth engagement and it’s hard for a reader to sustain that level of engagement on a multifunction device. On the flip side, those conditions create other opportunities.
SL: The key challenge is that the Next Big Thing is no longer in focus; the lens has shattered and we don’t know where it might come from. Digital gives anyone, anywhere, the capacity to innovate and the drive to innovate orientates around consumer benefit.
PM: Figuring out direct to consumer; identifying true consumer pain points; working with authors who can innovate creatively on the digital canvas.
RM: Competitiveness in the e-book retail sector; the ongoing need to attract digital skills into the workforce; ensuring continued strong relationships with authors.
SR: Connectivity, both in ensuring that new platforms and business models can be sustainable, preservable and usable, and in collaborating with different communities of practice to develop effective and creative outputs for now and for the future.
(From left) Lloyd, Meyers, Mollet, Rayner and Edwards.
What are you hoping to get out of FutureBook this year?
PA: I’m interested in hearing how the industry regards the centricity of the creator: the author.
TB: New ideas (and old ideas challenged), new people . . . and new books!
JE: What I would love is for something to completely surprise me; to make me think “this changes everything”.
MF: I hope that speakers and audience will open my horizons to unexpected new opportunities.
AJ: I always come away from FutureBook energised and inspired by the can-do approach of the trade’s key figures.
SL: I would like to learn something new, be challenged, take away at least three new contacts— and I’d like to have some fun.
PM: Meeting and learning from those who are helping invent the book of the future!
RM: Fresh strategic insights and a sneak preview of the latest product innovations.
SR: New ideas, new perspectives and seeing the collaborative spirit at the heart of the book business in action!
Lisa Edwards: From its roots in digital, I'm hoping to witness the Futurebook Conference embracing new developments in print publishing, as it finds new formats, routes to market and a new consumer profile.
The FutureBook Conference takes place on Friday 4th December at The Mermaid Centre in London. For more information click here.