Books outside the box: lessons for publishers from WeWork, Adidas and IKEA

Books outside the box: lessons for publishers from WeWork, Adidas and IKEA

Innovation in publishing. When’s the last time you saw something in publishing that made you think “WOW”? Have a think. No no, take as long as you like, there’s no rush.

“Publishers can’t innovate. Despite all the resources and talent within publishing, startups have the edge when it comes to innovation”. Words from Prolifiko’s Bec Evans - one of the judges of the BookTech Company of the Year awards, ergo someone who should know. And I couldn’t agree more. I think publishing could be such an exciting space, but it’s so very rare that I see something really new, different and fresh.

So why are publishers so scared of innovation? Do you think you’ll come up with something more innovative than the book itself? As a product which has essentially remained more or less the same since approximately the 15th century, the printed paper form seems to be doing fine, thanks for asking.

But it seems complete lunacy to continue to bury our heads in the sands. In the red corner, we have the book: simple, printed paper with a jolly cover. In the blue corner, we have all manner of digital, social products, each designed specifically to invite interaction, and personalised to your individual preferences. I know, I know - you’re already painfully aware of the many products and services competing with your precious books for people’s attention.

But there IS space for innovation. Look at any other industry and you’ll see. A couple of recent innovations you’ll definitely have heard of? How about Gilette’s recent campaign or Greggs’ vegan sausage roll? Advising men to be less sexist and misogynist? Nothing new. Baked goods? Definitely not new. But tapping into today’s #metoo climate and responding to a rise in veganism? Rather smart. Best of all, both moves got customers - and the media - talking about the brands.

So how can you innovate? Let’s start by taking a few interesting new innovations and looking at how you could use them…


Your PR team is probably discussing the implications of the CMA’s latest guidelines for bloggers, influencers and social media personalities RN. But rather than asking them to take part in yet another virtual book tour (yawn!), why not create an opportunity that they’ll actually want to promote?

WeWork recently partnered with to open an influencer-curated pop-up shop in the co-working company’s latest office space in London. Could you invite the influencers and bloggers you work with to collaborate on a similar project? Perhaps they’d like to curate a selection of the best books to take on holiday? Or their favourite books by BAME writers?

And your customers are your biggest cheerleaders. So why not give them a platform to curate and sell their favourite books? After all, most of us ask trusted friends first when we’re looking for book recommendations, right? Something like brand new digital marketplace app Storr would offer a much more exciting, personal way of buying and selling.

Where and when

Who doesn’t love free food? Tokyo’s Metro is currently offering free noodles to commuters opting to travel outside peak times, helping to ease congestion. Would you consider taking the Central Line a little later than usual in exchange for a brand new book and a cup of coffee? How can you not only ease pain points, but also make your products relevant in terms of time and place?

In our always-on, ever more busy lives, reading is something many of us choose to do when we commute. Do we have time to pause in WH Smith and peruse the bookshelves? Probably not. But a grab-and-go breakfast-and-book combo? Yes please. And on the subject of transport - why oh WHY aren’t there book vending machines on every train and tube platform?

The same goes for travel - another occasion where books come into their own. Heywood Hill has curated a selection of books for Cambridge’s recently-opened University Arms - is there an airline, travel company or hotel you could partner with?


Just how many books are being pulped every year? It’s the publishing industry’s dirty secret. How can you work differently with retailers sending books to their doom? And if your customers are going all Marie Kondo on their bookcases, how can you become part of that process?

Perhaps you could set up something like zero-waste platform Loop? When customers have finished with a book, you could collect it and bring them something new to read? Or incentivise them to donate books to charity - perhaps partnering with a relevant nonprofit? H&M’s partnership with Lyft is a great example of how brands can partner to do good together.

Or maybe you could even upcycle your books instead of pulping them? Adidas recently collaborated with designer Simone Post to transform old sneakers into rugs - could you create a limited edition collection of stationery or gift cards, for example?

Fun, different, disruptive things...

Boring is bad. Fun is GOOD. Can you do something fun for your customers? I love Spotify’s idea of creating playlists based on your horoscope. I’d listen to that.

Or how about a different take on mental health - anyone else been engrossed by digital platform Friends With Secrets? Or just do something with humour - like IKEA’s recent sleep campaign and series of events.

And get ready for ‘Egg Hunting Season’ - the 2019 iteration of Cadbury’s Creme Egg campaign is set to hack ads from other brands, with cash prizes to incentivise customers across the UK to take part in the company’s treasure hunt.

What's next?

So how can you become more innovative? What can you do to get people more excited about books today Or... shall we just stick with business as usual?