FutureBook Hack was a legal high for publishing

FutureBook Hack was a legal high for publishing

As I emerged blinking from into Torrington Street W.1 at 430pm from the UK's first ever #FutureBookHack I felt a kind of elation about the future of the publishing industry that I hadn't felt for some time.
I also felt exhausted -  32 hours earlier I had been helping my son Jack with stocking fridges with essential supplies, unloading a mountain of beanbags from a white van and plugging in seemingly hundreds of extension cables. Hackers apparently march on their stomachs, require soft padding for their posteriors and need to be constantly connected.

Happily these and every other eventuality had been anticipated by the indomitable Matthew Cashmore and the incredible #FutureBookHack Royal Family Alice Ryan and Blake Brooks. Two hours later - with the scene finally set and looking like a cross between an exam hall and an Apple Store we all looked at each other and nervously hoped that we had built it and that they would indeed come.

At 10am, YES!, they started to arrive - initially in dribs and drabs but eventually as a torrent of hackers, coders and techies (and the occasional publisher in disguise) - all united by a wish to engage with our industry, immerse in it and see if they could be the person or people who could help change our world. There was also the not-so small matter of the £5,000 up for grabs but I genuinely felt very few were motivated by that alone.

The diversity was exhilerating too - both culturally and by gender, and they all lapped up the speakers who kicked off the day. Whether it be Macmillan's Sara Lloyd’s refreshing no-nonsense approach to the industry or Mark Adams from TheAudience telling us that we were engaged in 'digitising popular culture' and we needed to 'run full pelt into a wall and take risks'. Whoever we heard from this felt exciting and real.
This had all started when my US colleagues at WME and Perseus's Rick Joyce had run a Publishing Hackathon in the US in 2013 and, a year later when I was asked to be part of FutureBook's The Big Idea I took the easy way out and said that my Big Idea was that we needed to find a Big Idea by holding a hack. The Bookseller's c.e.o. and publisher Nigel Roby lit the touchpaper by offering to back it before I was even off the stage and then the amazing Alice Ryan swung into action and my big idea was translated 9 months later into a room full of people buzzing with possibility.

Like everything that is meticulously planned it all felt seamless and free-flowing but felt, at times,that we were all slightly living in the future - at one point I was lying on the floor photographing speakers on my iPhone, live tweeting them with our hashtag and then watching Benedicte Page's storified blog magically updating with my pics. Looking over too at people playing with amazing Electric Ink, 3D printers and other Innovation Lab goodies I felt elated. This was really happening and was bigger, better and more focussed than anyone dared predict. Not long later that day we received news that I could hardly believe - #FutureBookHack had become the Number One trending item on Twitter. Not just in London or in the media world but across all genres and across the entire United Kingdom. The first of many tears were wiped away.
At 10 am the next day the room felt different - hackers sat with blankets draped around their shoulders and there was a quiet intensity as their ideas went into their final stage of coding and then, much much later, we sat in the Lecture Theatre and watched 24 teams presents amazing, transformative, rational ideas all of which deserved serious consideration and most of which didn’t exist at 9.59 am the day before.

Alice squeezed my shoulder from the row behind and every now and again Sara Lloyd and I would lean our heads together and say, 'incredible' or 'no brainer' or just 'WOW'. With the category winners announced I left the room quickly and found a quiet space upstairs. I felt so tangibly emotional about what we had all just been through together - with FutureBook's rocket fuel and Alice Ryan and Blake's single-minded focus my not-so-Big Idea borrowed from the US had been a transformative experience for everyone there.
Apologies in advance Alice and Matthew but this HAS to be an annual event as it WILL change how we see our inbred business. I also urge every UK publisher who held back this year from getting involved to leap in for 2015 - the legal high we all got from being part of it was worth the time alone.  This really was a hack to the future.


More coverage:

The Bookseller email, Philip Jones: Hats off to the hackers

The FutureBook, Porter Anderson: Pan Macmillan's Lloyd at FutureBook Hack: "Ask what you can do for readers"

The FutureBook, Porter Anderson: FutureBook Hack: 40% women and proud of it

The FutureBook, Porter Anderson: FutureBook Hackers at work: Did we tell them enough?

The Bookseller, Benedicte Page: FutureBook Hack chooses its winners

The FutureBook, Porter Anderson: Faber's Griffiths on audio at FutureBook Hack: Listen for the consumer

The FutureBook, Porter Anderson: FutureBook Hack's invocation: The Rev. Matthew Cashmore

The Bookseller, Sarah Shaffi: FutureBook Hack: 'You can make the world a better place'

The Bookseller, Sarah Shaffi: FutureBook Hack: Storify

Image: FutureBook Hack's T-shirt design by Danny Arter