Futurebook 09/10 - what's another year?

Futurebook 09/10 - what's another year?

On the eve of the second Futurebook conference, a comparison with its predecessor shows how rapidly the industry is developing...

One of the more notable aspects of Futurebook 09 was the number of speakers drawn from other industries, as if a nervous industry were uncertainly looking for advice from its more experienced siblings. The music industry was particularly well represented. In the opening session, 7Digital CEO Ben Drury gave a potted history of that industry's relationship with technology, from wax cylinders to the cloud, while digital consultant Jason Dunne asserted that the public would ultimately abandon books just as they had vinyl. And in a telling indication of how quickly trends can change, Vodafone Head of Music Tom McLellan, seeking evidence for the increasing importance of mobile as a publishing platform, adduced the massive rise in the number of mobile phone users with unlimited data plans. Less than a year later, at Nokia World 2010, Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao would welcome the end of unlimited mobile data plans, telling delegates that "data pricing has to adjust".

By contrast, Futurebook 10 looks on the surface to be a slightly more confident affair so far as its relationship with other industries is concerned. An afternoon panel exploring cross-media relationships in terms of "Partnerships, alliances and ... commercial opportunities" offers an encouraging counterpoint to Publishers' Association Chief Executive Richard Mollett's keynote speech considering "the lessons learned from the music industry in tackling online copyright infringement".

Piracy was also a prominent issue at Futurebook 09, with talks from two media lawyers, and a panel session dedicated to the subject. Alicia Wise from the PA gave a detailed introduction to their excellent copyright infringement portal, while Hachette Head of Digital George Walkley suggested, positively, that a move towards cloud-based services might open up the current narrow range of DRM options.

Revisiting my notes suggests how much has already changed in under a year. One of the final speakers at Futurebook 09 was Phil Wood, MD of Interead, who spoke with great enthusiasm of his company's Cooler e-reader, with accompanying bookstore and publishing house. Sadly, Interead were wound up in June this year. It's interesting to note also that the principal complaint amongst ebook users last year, as reported by both Alex Ingram of Waterstones and Marek Vaygelt of market research company Yougov, was that the range of books available was far too narrow. Though this remains a problem, any survey undertaken today would surely point to pricing as the major source of consumer annoyance. Since both Ingram and Vaygelt are returning to Futurebook 10, the latter to present insights from a research project on reading using tablet devices, we may yet find out whether this is indeed the case.

In such a rapidly changing world, though, it's reassuring to note that some things remain the same. At Futurebook 09, Google's Jason Hanley gave delegates a fascinating overview of Google Editions, the company's already much-anticipated entry into the publishing world. Hanley's set to return this year as a keynote speaker, again providing "an overview of Google Editions, what we might expect and when we might expect the new e-book platform". One wonders if he's been pencilled in to do the same again next year.

Futurebook 09 closed with the announcement from Bookseller MD Nigel Roby that a new "community for digital professionals" would be launched on the Bookseller's website early the following year. Given that said community turned out to be the very site you're reading this piece on, it might be worthwhile paying attention to his closing remarks this year too...

Alastair Horne will be live tweeting from Futurebook 10 (hashtag #fb10) as @pressfuturist.