I recently gave a talk on publishing trends to a room full of book people from some of our best-known presses and imprints. As an opening gambit, I asked them to raise their hands if they were frightened about the future of book publishing.
No hands popped up.
I found this deeply bewildering. Fear and excitement are essentially the same sensation: butterflies. That cocktail of cortisol and adrenaline that we feel when we think about the unknown is a good thing, not a sign that there’s a problem. And it’s not just natural, it’s necessary.
So were these people worryingly complacent, or simply in the wrong job? Of course, they could have just been irritated at being asked to ‘participate’ when they preferred to sit passively - but then that's pretty telling in itself.
The thing is, I don’t believe that everyone in publishing should be forced to learn how to code. I don’t believe that everyone in publishing should be pressured to become some sort of insane renaissance genius, as skilled in the mechanics of voice search as they are in the mechanics of semi-colons.
But I do think the book trade needs people willing to nurture their fear - or is it excitement? - without letting it drag them from one panicked, half-baked decision to the next. I think we need people who are able to hold stubbornly onto their hard-won instincts about what readers and potential readers want. People who have the courage to partner with those whose skills and perspectives challenge their own - and the commitment to use those partnerships to experiment.
That’s the thinking that led to the tagline for this year’s FutureBook conference: Don’t delegate the future. We’ve set the date for Friday 1st December, so do pencil (type) it into your diary (Google calendar) now.
What can you expect?
Well, just like last year, the conference will offer three streams of content for the price of one: FutureBook, Audiobook Revolution and Edtech for Publishers. But this time round, the whole day will be designed to encourage you to think hard, speak up and come away with concrete actions that you can make happen in your day job.
- Our inspiring keynotes will feature both high-profile publishing insiders offering hard-won insights, and disruptive outsiders who will bring a fresh perspective to challenges and opportunities for the book trade. More on them soon, but suffice to say: they're going to be seriously stimulating.
- Our expert panels will reverse the usual, passive, few-to-the-many setup. Instead, each set of panellists will have a few minutes to set out their stall, then they'll get busy provoking their audience to collectively answer one clear, positive question about how they can forge a better future for various aspects of the industry, from bookselling to marketing to creative uses of data. No fuzzy pontificating or backseat snoozing allowed.
- Our new sprint session will see a crowdsourced publishing problem tackled live on stage by a team of global entrepreneurs. The key takeaway here won't just be the final 'solution' - it will be understanding how a group of very different thinkers approach said problem, and the process they go through in developing their ideas.
- Our revamped FutureBook Awards will showcase the most innovative case studies from the past year in a fresh and stimluating way. And our expanded BookTech pitch-off will put another tranche of promising publishing startups through the gauntlet, live.
At the heart of our programming is the unwavering belief that, if you work in the book trade, you matter. Right now, the world urgently needs brave publishers, brilliant books and more passionate readers willing to broaden their minds. Whatever it is that you, individually, are particularly good at - be that spotting a brilliant potential writing talent or getting the exact right shade of blue for the lettering on the cover of a kids’ book - that talent is valuable.
You are the future, just as much as as a Palo Alto machine learning engineer or a Gen Z Insta-sleb. So do let me know about the people, topics and questions you’re particularly interested in right now, and we’ll do our best to fit them in. In the meantime - feel the fear, nurture your excitement, and and register your interest for #FutureBook17 now.