Why you should have been at FutureBook

The FutureBook Conference 2015 took place on 4th December at The Mermaid Theatre. I’d like to say a huge thank you to The Bookseller team who let me volunteer for the day! Along with a few stints on the registration desk and helping delegates find coffee, I attended The New Publishing: Content Unbound, On the Move: How Mobile Changes Everything and The BookTech Showcase.

Stand out speakers from The New Publishing: Content Unbound included Cameron Drew, Mark Searle, and Crystal Mahey-Morgan with a focus on personalisation and engaging new audiences.

Cameron Drew from BookTrack asked us, can we read with a soundtrack? I don’t know about you, but in London there’s always a soundtrack to my reading, usually the rumble of the Tube. BookTrack offers an alternative; it lets you create synchronised movie-style soundtracks for e-books. Ooh. BookTrack’s aim is to meet people’s new entertainment expectations in a world where Netflix and Twitter get in the way of our reading. According to Drew, “sound can enhance the reading experience”.

Mark Searle has created This Is Your Cookbook to ride the current wave of personalisation, seen in the likes of similar projects such as Lost My Name Book and Together Tales. This Is Your Cookbook allows you to fill a cookbook with your own recipes and choose the cover design. Searle said being a direct-to-consumer business “means building a community”.

Crystal Mahey-Morgan left Penguin Random House to launch a “storytelling lifestyle brand” called Own It! Mahey-Morgan was “frustrated at the industry’s inability to move faster” with diversity and innovation. Own It! is all about creative collaboration across books, music, fashion, and film. The Own It! project Don’t Be Alien is “one story told in multiple different forms”. Mahey-Morgan said “the future of books lies outside the book” and echoed Drew’s call to engage new audiences.

After refuelling with hot pot in a room overlooking the Tate Modern and The Shard, I went along to On the Move: How Mobile Changes Everything. Maureen Scott, George Burgess, and Anna Jean Hughes all repeated the same message: mobile content is where it’s at.

Maureen Scott started with the horrifying but believable statement that “users touch their smartphones 221 times a day” followed by “are they touching anything you’re doing?”, which got some giggles.

George Burgess, founder and CEO of Gojimo, now the most popular revision tool in the UK, gave us five pointers for launching a successful mobile app.

1)      Create content, don’t convert.

2)      Iterate.

3)      Find a mobile marketing expert.

4)      Experiment with prices.

5)      Make data-driven decisions.

With a 4.5 rating in the app store, it’s hard to ignore Burgess’s advice. Freemium content will always reach further than apps you have to purchase. Gojimo’s next two challenges are how to market the app to parents and how to become an international success.

Anna Jean Hughes of The Pigeonhole, a provider of serialised books for mobile devices, said “millennials want more”. The Pigeonhole’s website provides a fantastic user experience, and the idea makes absolute sense. Hughes reminded us that “these readers are not you” and that The Pigeonhole works for both book lovers and people who need that bit of encouragement.

By the time I got to The BookTech Showcase, I was brimming with all this innovation and slightly over-excited at the possibilities for future publishing, especially when it comes to consistently trying to better the industry and exploring digital opportunities.

The BookTech showcase saw eight start-ups pitch to three judges: Hannah Telfer from Penguin Random House, Dan Kieran of Unbound, and tech goddess Eileen Burbidge of Passion Capital. Each company had five minutes to pitch before being questioned by the judges. The start-ups were Shulph, The Owl Field, Together Tales, Gojimo, Write-Track, Oolipo, Ooovre, and Reedsy. The pitches moved far too quickly for me to take any notes so I concentrated on trying to absorb as much as possible. These are growing companies, still in their fledgling stage and in need of further seed capital. I would urge anyone wanting to get into publishing to go to their websites and have a look at what they’re doing to try and solve problems within publishing and with the reading experience. Burbidge said the companies had been too apologetic in their pitches and that “start-ups need no justification”, and in the end, Reedsy was crowned the winner.      

I had a great day at the conference and was overwhelmed by the ideas on offer. If you get the chance, go to FutureBook next year. It will make you a better publisher, reader, and person.

Zoe Sharples is a student on the publishing MA at University College London.