Living the digital dream

Living the digital dream

I am just compiling and looking at the coverage of this year's FutureBook Conference, which took place on Monday in London. One thing that immediately struck me after the event was the number of times the words 'publishers should . . .' are repeated in the reports. I was particularly pleased, therefore, when Pottermore's Charlie Redmayne stood up at the beginning of the day and told us what publishers had got right: a lot. Redmayne said there had been too much negativity in the industry and that publishers were now in a position they would have thought "a dream" a couple of years back, with multiple retailers for them to sell their e-books through.

Of course there was still plenty of advice for publishers on what they 'should do' and what they needed to change to begin to move forwards in the digital world, but I thought Redmayne set the tenor for the day: pointing out what we had done well, figuring out what we might do better.

Key themes around the latter were consumer insight, developing editorial products that were digitally native, not simply facsimiles of print titles, learn to price flexibly and with confidence, and become more entrepreunerial in their approach to product and risk. I thought HarperCollins' group m.d. Simon Johnson summed it rather well in the final panel session. He said: "We really haven't started to see what digital really means for publishers. We have just used digital as a delivery channel. The product and platforms are going to change a lot. It is behoven on us to disrupt what product really is." We heard also that publishers needed to put editorial at their heart, to empower editors to understand digital and think more innovatively about the types of products they aim to create.

As the ever wise Dominique Raccah, chief executive of Sourcebooks, said during one panel discussion: "If all you are doing is putting text files on a Kindle, your days are numbered. That's not publishing." As it happens I don't completely agree with Dominique on this occasion. It is publishing in the same way paperback publishing is publishing, and it's also important: breaking a writer in the Kindle bestsellers lists at a good price is as vital as creating a new interactive book app, or indeed a new way of reading Shakespeare. But what Dominique hints at is that publishing is more than just a sales engine, and digital is more than just a new marketplace. As Redmayne suggested, publishers have done well to get to where they are today in the shape they are in, but they now need to seize the future with a vision, excellence and originality many already display.

I've been compiling a list of FutureBook coverage, and I'll update it when I can. You can read Porter Anderson's take here; Sheila Bounford's view of the final panel discussion here; a blog about the day from Nosy Crow's Tom Bonnick here, and a round-up here from Inspired Selection. Here is a Twitter history of the day, courtesey of Porter Anderson, and Eventifier; and from the same source, Epilogger. There is also plenty of coverage from the Good E-Reader blog, including interviews with many of the participants.