Get ready to hack

This week The Bookseller lifts the lid on a project we’ve been working on for six months.

The FutureBook Hack is the UK’s first ever industry-wide book hackathon. WME agent Simon Trewin pitched the idea at FutureBook last year, after his own experience at The Publishing Hackathon, run by the Perseus Book Group with WME in the US a year ago.

Following Trewin’s call, Faber’s Stephen Page and Osprey’s Rebecca Smart asked The Bookseller to lead in making it happen. The FutureBook Hack takes place over the weekend of 14th–15th June at University College London, with founding partners Pan Macmillan, HarperCollins, Simon &  Schuster, Penguin Random House and Faber. It will be produced by Blackwell’s digital director Matthew Cashmore, with organising partner Midas PR, and continued support from Trewin.

Hackathons are not new, and neither are they unique to the book sector. Cashmore ran his first hack-day in 2007, while the fashion sector is getting together this weekend for its own hack: “Decoded Fashion”. The opportunity here is vast: digital brings with it a whole host of challenges, some we have the skills to solve, and some we do not. As I wrote last week, publishing needs to recognise that it has come through these early stages of the digital content revolution remarkably well. It is healthy, wealthy and wised-up. This is the moment to take advantage and help shape what comes next.  The book business has a remarkable record in publishing innovation, and a terrible reputation for digital inertia.

This may feel undeserved. Harlequin’s launch this week of online story world The Chatsfield, PRH’s My Independent Bookshop and before that Anobii, show what can be attempted. Yet for all that, a disconnect remains. We are an industry of creatives, sitting on a bank of unrivalled content, fixated on an unyielding supply chain. It is easy to criticise publishers for this, but far better to help effect change. As Page notes, this initiative signals that this is a sector ‘open for business’.

A hack invites digital natives—coders, developers, designers—to work on the solutions to the problems we see. A winning team will go home with a £5,000 prize, but the relationships built, ideas tested, and the learning that takes place between the communities involved will be invaluable.

The Bookseller’s job here is not finished. The publisher partners will work on a set of challenges—from discoverability to product innovation—while a website (www.futurebookhack.com) has been launched to begin taking developer registrations.

We remain open to talking with anyone not already involved who wishes to join. Our commitment here is to spark this and then see what the light created can tell us about tomorrow.

The hack is on. Expect the unexpected.