FutureBook 2016 - the business of digital publishing

The Bookseller's FutureBook Conference 2016 reflects an industry that can now look back on its own digital past with confidence and make itself ready for the transformation next. This will be The Bookseller's boldest conference yet with speakers from across the arts and media, trade publishing, the education and tech sectors. We are introducing a three conferences in one concept that addresses the complexity of the book business and the different ways digital is impacting the sector: the three strands including the new AudioBook Revolution and EdTech for Publishers events will offer an unparalleled perspective on a publishing business that is grappling with fundamental change, facing markets that are in flux, but with a core product that remains intensely popular.

You will read elsewhere that conferences focused on publishing's future are now tougher to programme and need to be re-imagined to stay relevant. We will have none of that at FutureBook or The Bookseller. Publishing's future has never felt more relevant and pregnant with possibilities. What drove interest in The Bookseller's early digital conferences was concern over the digital shift, but as these discussions have been replaced by knowledge and real-time business what is vital now is to focus on how to navigate the contours of the new marketplaces, face up to how they will continue to shift, and get ahead of the next move.

FutureBook's keynote speakers will challenge you to seize control of the future, look to the new, re-wire your talent and lean into tomorrow with the confidence of an industry that is as strong as it has been enduring. This year's event will focus on what publishing has learnt from the disrupters, but also crucially what the new entrants have understood about the incumbents; discussions will interrograte how other media sectors have responded to their own transformations and how books can be at the vanguard of what tomorrow's digital natives crave in entertainment and education. We will look at how our customers like to shop and experience the new content differently, and how publishers want to sell it to them. Speakers range from the biggest - Bonnier, Hachette, HarperCollins - to the smallest - Bookouture, Near St, and Gojimo - from market makers such as Audible and Storytel to outsiders such as NeonPlay.

The new conferences, AudioBook Revolution and EdTech for Publishers, will provide exclusive analyses of rapidly developing new marketplaces at pivotal moments in their growth. Talks here will range from established players who have seen their businesses challenged and transformed, and from new players unencumbered by legacy operations driving forwards in new directions. We will hear international perspectives, but also learn how our markets are being changed by demands that are local but driven by global trends.

Most important, we will provide a glimpse of the future with expert trend analyses, opinion on the next digital phase for the book, the audiobook and the textbook and the business model challenges ahead. And of course, this is a conference agnostic about format: we will also hear how new digital thinking, printing and design techniques are changing the way we imagine print books, and how the web is delivering new opportunities for new businesses selling old content in new ways.

This is not only an incredible time to be working in this business, it is a defining one. As long-time FutureBook contributor Nick Harkaway said back at the very first FutureBook, what we do today will live with the sector for years to come. Digital has been good for publishers, authors, books and, though it is less clear cut, bookshops. In joining the technology revolution that has engulfed everything from computers to televisions to phones and watches, books have shown that they will not be displaced by whatever comes next: in fact they may be improved. Some of these changes will be simple, of course, others more complex. If we are done with the former, then we have not yet even begun to scratch the surface of the latter.

The past provides the clues. In his new book The Untold Story of the Talking Book, the academic Matthew Rubery charts the coming of the audiobook from its first days as a Thomas Edison invention through to the digital download that now dominates the marketplace. Rubery tells us that the first incarnation of audiobooks in 1880 led to a debate about the format shift with many commentators suggesting that their arrival would result in the death of the printed book. It's a topic that still troubles us more than 100 years later, and Rubery's analysis is timely. In truth old formats rarely die quickly and new formats rarely evolve as dramatically as one might imagine. It took another 90 years for the cassette tape to arrive and make audiobooks a commercial reality for publishers, and another 20 before the CD changed things again. In that time an industry was taken apart and rebuilt and a new way of servicing that reading need was established.

Matthew is just one of a range of speakers new to FutureBook this year who are ready to provide radical insights into the future of the book based on an acute understanding of where we have come from and where we might be going. Think you've seen the future book. Think again.

Philip Jones is editor of The Bookseller.