What should an industry headed towards the FutureBook Conference on 4th December be asking itself?
Digital is no longer one thing: no longer just a format shift, or platform play. It is no longer just about social media, or direct to consumer. It is no longer about print or e-book, ePub or HTML. It’s a great melange, a concatenation of forms, content, ideas, writings, readers and customers built on a bedrock of both print and digital. Watching the powerpoint presentations from this year’s crop of speakers for FutureBook15 is the revelation and spur I was expecting: the book business attracts people to it as it always did, but not with single viewpoints, or ideas that express themselves only in one direction. There are sharp differences around business models, the future of the ePub e-book, the impact of mobile, and the necessity of direct to consumer activity. There are points, counter-points, and questions that will demand our attention and time.
At The Bookseller, the questions we began asking ourselves as far back as December last year—when the doors shut on the FutureBook Conference 2014—were what led us towards the event this year: what kind of industry does publishing want to be? Do we embrace the future, or look away? Do we engage with independent writers, the new book tech, and those building the new books, or do we push past them? Do we think of mobile as a platform or a distraction? A threat, an opportunity or a challenge? Do we want an early view, or one too late? Do we accept that we are no longer an island, or build a bigger wall?
In his piece about keynoting at the conference this year, Faber chief executive Stephen Page, posed his own questions: “While the book trade, and its balance of print and digital, may appear steadier, there are questions we need to address urgently. In the omni-channel retailing world (ie bricks and mortar and online together) how should publishers partner with retailers? Through such partnership what might omni-channel publishing look like? While the book has stood its ground impressively during the digital revolution, what about the world around the book? What is the future of marketing, shopping and reading itself when our consumers increasingly live in a mobile-oriented and social-centred world? What is the future for subscription and other models for creating value for writers? What models might we invent? How do we ensure that we don’t lose out to other forms of entertainment? How do we remove barriers for consumers increasingly overwhelmed by choice?”
The role of FutureBook is, of course, to showcase as well as interrogate. We need to understand where we are now, in order to figure out the journey ahead. As I mentioned back in October, there is always much more happening beneath the surface than ever emerges for air: under the welter of colouring-in tiles and this year’s Christmas hits, there is digital innovation happening across the board, from Quarto’s This is your Cookbook to HarperCollins’ Scrabble campaign; from the integration of video into Sage’s its teaching products to the rollout of the Faber members platform. The joy this year, has been our deep dive into these areas, and the joy of the conference will be watching these products and innovators meet in one shared space.
But let’s not go into this with faint heart. The questions we need to ask of ourselves are real ones, and they are tough ones, we may not always find ready or easy answers.
As part of our weekly #FutureChat Twitter conversation, we have asked all of the session hosts at this year’s FutureBook Conference, to take part in a great industry question time: this is an opportunity to raise high the debate and prepare ourselves for the day discovery and questioning the following Friday.
To kick start this, here are some of the questions respondents to the Digital Census asked this year (feel free to add your own in the comments thread below, or join us on Friday at 4 p.m. GMT). And PS, if you have the answers, come along to FutureBook and share them.
Digital Census: Questions from the 2015 survey
When are publishers going to start properly skilling up in terms of digital/programming/design skills?
Ever since I started writing in 2010 I have felt the active book with not only text, but links to music pictures and research is the way forward. I do not think straight substitution of e text for print is much of an advance ... its like the first cars looking like carriages. What do others think?
When will publishers understand that if they don't create books for devices, other "entertainment" business enterprises will?
Why are corporations so relentlessly myopic? Why do they continue to think bigger is better? Why do they feel no obligation to support the people whom they serve with taxes?
No question, but a comment...Amazon did a wonderful thing for authors by introducing the kindle and making self publishing and reading so easy. But why on earth are they trying to be the only publisher in town?
Would the book industry ever consider incorporating a digital copy when buying a physical copy of a book?
'Second screen' consumption on TV and games platforms attracts younger participants, what meta-effects can publishers use to add content and attraction to digital books?
The nature of the print book is a finished, private experience: the nature of the web is ongoing connectivity. How will the digital book bridge these opposing paradigms?
Where are the creative incubators for publishing? Where can an author experiment, explore, innovate, and learn in exchange for giving an investor an equity stake in an intellectual property?
Why are e-books still so badly designed? Particularly with regard to non-textual elements – illustrations, maps, tables, etc.
Some of the biggest disruptors and innovators of recent times, such as Netflix and AirBnB, have come from outside the industry they changed - fuelled by a want to change something that didn't work for them. What is the biggest issue in digital publishing that you hope someone comes along at improves.
With print on demand titles in the last few weeks becoming NY Times bestsellers and getting distribution into Walmart (Jamie McGuire), how do publishers think digital in print will pan out over the next few years?
If publishers and agents support bookstores, why do they tweet out 99p promotions for their books on Kindle?
Join us for #FutureChat Friday (27th November) live on Twitter at 4:00 p.m. London (GMT), 5:00 p.m. Rome (CEST), 11 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).
And bookings close that day, Friday the 27th, for our 4th December FutureBook 2015 Conference at The Mermaid in London, the fifth annual iteration of the event.
Please be sure to see our new digitally readable (YUDU) preview and programme with articles, background and full detail on the event.