Can publishing use a little mindfulness?

Can publishing use a little mindfulness?

Not that anybody in publishing is tense

When my colleague Miriam Robinson put together her programme for the upcoming Bookseller Marketing and Publicity Conference at Southbank Centre, we all might have looked a tad haggard to her. She installed a special session on 30th June called "People-Powered Products and PR" with Rohan Gunatillake, the mind behind Mindfulness Everywhere and its buddhify app for Android and iOS

This is one of those interesting cases of a near-adjacency to publishing. In parallel to what the bookish biz is banging on about — did I hear the word "disruption?" — something as traditionalist as meditation is going digital, going mobile, parceled out into "more than 80 guided meditations custom-made for wherever you are and whatever you're doing," as buddhify promises.

The voice-over on the buddhify app's video speaks of "our busy city lives." I've met a few people who are pretty stressed out in the countryside, too.

Indeed, the industry! the industry! is the nerve-wracking collective it is, in part, because we all so generously share the shakes along with the smiles. You have only to ask a pressing question (How big is self-publishing?) or watch a new bit of news land (Amazon is changing its payout structure for KDP authors) or pick up on the latest tone of the debate ("Publishers have only themselves to blame") to see how quickly we tweet up our daily obsessions and pass around our community's concerns.

I asked Robinson about Gunatillake's talk at the conference, and she told me:

He's appearing in the 'Under Pressure' section, which means he'll focus on a few key pressures: the pressure of competition, of scale and sales, of missing the moment, and of personal success.

Yes, we now create publishing conferences with sections titled "Under Pressure."

So on Friday (19th June), get centered up with us in a special #FutureChat with Gunatillake. I may invite my own meditation master, Wildmind's Bodhipaksa, to join us, too. Enough folks like these guys in the chat, and we can all just bliss out and tell everybody our tweets were oddly lost on the ether.

This story was written as a walkup for our #FutureChat  session of 19th June. Join us each Friday live on Twitter at 4:00 p.m. London (BST), 3:00 p.m. GMT, 5:00 p.m. Rome (CEST), 11:00 a.m. New York (ET), 10:00 a.m. Chicago (CT), 9:00 a.m. Denver (MT), 8:00 a.m. Los Angeles (PT), 5:00 a.m. Honolulu (HAST).

Ahead of #FutureChat, I've been in touch with Gunatillake ( @rohan_21awake ) to get an idea of what he's doing and how he comes to be using technology to spread "mindfulness everywhere." You can see him in action in the video for a new product, Cards for Mindfulness. He's not only a trustee of the British Council and one of Wired's 2012 Smart List of 50 world-changing people, but he's also an author.

'Trying to stay in touch with the human'

FutureBook: Rohan, which came first, the mindfulness or the technology? 

Rohan Gunatillake: ​They arose together.​ I first got into meditation and mindfulness around the same time that I started work in London as a business consultant working on some large technology projects. The meditation tradition that I was training in was effectively a monastic one and so it didn't have a lot of models for developing one's practice in an urban, digital, relational, modern environment and so that was the challenge I set myself.

Technology is just a part of modern life and so as a meditator I just had to work out for myself how best to use it in the development of my own awareness, calm and kindness. And buddhify was just an expression of that, in that it includes a lot of techniques that I used myself and continue to use on a daily basis.

FutureBook: What is the relationship today of Mindfulness Everywhere to 21awake? 

Rohan Gunatillake: When I first published buddhify I was still doing a lot of consulting and innovation work, mainly within the context of the arts. For example I worked for the Edinburgh Festivals for two years as their innovation lead. For convenience I put everything through one company which I called 21awake​ but then when it became clear that I was effectively moving to doing full-time mindfulness & technology work I set up Mindfulness Everywhere as a new vehicle for that.

FutureBook: New projects in the pipeline? 

Rohan Gunatillake: ​Yes. We just ran a successful Kickstarter campaign for a product called Cards for Mindfulness and our next app product will be out in the autumn. Instead of taking a typical startup approach of just pushing one product, our approach is to create a suite of products which solve different problems. I think of us as a creative studio.​

FutureBook: How heavy a lift was it to create buddhify?

Rohan Gunatillake: ​The first version of buddhify was a really heavy lift personally. I did pretty much everything bar the coding and the core logo design, writing all the content, providing the voices, doing some graphic design work, managing the developers and then all the post-launch PR and marketing. When we launched the improved product, I was still heavily involved but brought on some additional writers/voices and had learnt a lot from that early prototype experience and so that meant we were able to get some good success fairly quickly.

As for what was the most challenging, making good apps is hard work and then getting them discovered is even harder. But what I'm most proud of was the way we placed an emphasis on the interface design, seeing if we can make it as calming and joyful an experience as the meditation content itself. And yes, there is a lot of stress and difficulty you have to deal with but we made sure that everyone involved in the project could put as much love into the product at every stage along the way and I think that comes across.

FutureBook: Tell us a little bit about your booksThis Is Happening coming in January from PanMac (Bluebird)? I also see 24-Hour Mindfulness coming in August, both on US and UK Amazon, also from PanMac Bluebird. Different books? 

​Rohan Gunatillake24 Hour Mindfulness is a little e-short that comes out late August and is really fun. It's what I call a first-person mindfulness adventure, and through my eyes tells a story of what it might be like to practice mindfulness from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep. It's a really lovely read and hopes to show how straightforward and enjoyable it can be if we approach meditation as a all-day or mobile activity instead of always thinking of it primarily as the formal, sitting version.

Then the main book This is Happening comes out in January​ and is what I call a next-generation mindfulness book. It outlines what I call the new rules of mindfulness — which not only emphasise a mobile, dynamic style of doing things but also importantly show how we can use our digital lives as part of the solution rather than always framing technology as being the problem. Too much of conventional mindfulness teaching says that the only way to deal with technology mindfully is to turn it off — not only is that not realistic for most of us, it's also just not true. 

FutureBook: Miriam says not to let you give too much away before the conference (and we always obey Miriam), but can you tell us a little about what you'll talk about at #MPConf15 on the 30th? Will the audience hear about good mindfulness in marketing? -- or good marketing in mindfulness? Or would the Buddhist answer be that they're one in the same?

​Rohan Gunatillake: ​The section I'm in at the conference is called "Under Pressure", so I'm going to talk a little about the pressures that I feel on a daily basis and then what I do to deal with them. One of those is the tension of trying to stay in touch with the human while selling at large scale and that's definitely something we think about a lot.​

FutureBook: Thanks, Rohan, looking forward to having you in an unusually soothing #FutureChat on Friday. 

The Bookseller's Marketing and Publicity Conference 2015, #MBConf15, currently has a 3-for-2 offer on group ticket buys, but it closes Friday, 19th June, so don't wait. The conference is on 30th June in London, and booking information is here

Join us Fridays for #FutureChat live on Twitter at 4:00 p.m. London (BST), 3:00 p.m. GMT, 5:00 p.m. Rome (CEST), 11:00 a.m. New York (ET), 10:00 a.m. Chicago (CT), 9:00 a.m. Denver (MT), 8:00 a.m. Los Angeles (PT), 5:00 a.m. Honolulu (HAST).

Main image: buddhify video