Those magnificent manifestos

Those magnificent manifestos

Rethinking e-books, bridging the gap between trade and non-trade publishing, using digital to improve the publishing process, and putting authors in control, are the main themes to have come out of FutureBook’s request for 500 word manifestos about the future of the book business.

Earlier this year I made a call for the FutureBook audience to reflect on five years of digital (and in fact five years of the FutureBook blog and the FutureBook digital publishing conference) and to challenge the customs we have begun to adopt.

“The industry is not short of ideas, but what makes sense now is to focus on those habits and to re-imagine them. To challenge the principles before they become too ingrained.” Part of the planning for FutureBook 2015 (4th December, The Mermaid) is to take this recent history of the book business and reflect on the job still to do.

So far 17 submissions have been received, six already published online, with the rest to follow. What’s been particularly interesting is how the articles submitted reflect the changed and changing publishing scene, noting the frustrations as well as the successes.

There is an event split between manifestos meant for/or written by authors championing the way publishing power has shifted toward writers, and from those who see the current incarnation of the digital book as (somewhat) underwhelming.

The author perspective is incapsulated in Diana Kimpton’s already-published piece, which began,

I get on well with my publisher. I have 100% control over my covers and my marketing. I choose my editor, and I decide my pricing strategy. Best of all, I keep all the profits. Does that sound unbelievable? It’s not. My publisher is me.

Kimpton writes that since her first book was published 25 years ago the author/publisher relationship has tilted in the publishers’ favour, but digital technology has arrested that, and her belief is that it must now become “more balanced”. There is a similar tone seen in other author-led submissions: “the shifts in technology and in readership [are] not obstacles, but allies”, noted one. Another proclaimed, “I do not ask anyone for permission to publish or a pat on the back . . .”

Yet, it is also possible to detect a softening of tone, a request not to “point fingers” at those authors who make different choices, or at the “old institutions of publishing. And this is reflected in both sides. As one publisher’s manifesto begins, “if the last ten years have taught the industry nothing else it should at least have taught us all a little humility”. For this publisher it has taught them where the “creative power lies” — with authors.

The second theme derived from the submissions is about the e-book itself, as Tom Abba’s already published piece puts it (succinctly): “This is not good enough. Repeat after me.” As Abba notes: “The best we have are books under glass, enhancements with video and clicking and audio. Imprisoned and ridiculed and not what was promised.”

A second piece takes up a similar theme: “e-books are rubbish. Technologically and aesthetically lacking compared to what software can offer. . . It’s time to unshackle the potential of digital literature.” A third argues that e-books will “reshape the definition of the word ‘book’. Eventually they will shake it off altogether.” A fourth wants books to move away from the “doorstopper model”.

Other themes emerging include how publishers should invest in their editorial talent, how small indie presses (like independent authors) have demonstrated the agility to best respond to the changing publishing environment, and on how trade publishers should remind themselves to look to their non-trade (often all too distant) cousins for digital guidance.

This year’s FutureBook Conference is to be officially unveiled next Monday, with dedicated sessions already echoing the themes we see under discussion among our audience, from the “incredible book” to book tech innovation, to putting authors at the heart of publication (and indeed our events).

At FutureBook 2015, we will also invite a range of participants to deliver a five-minute Manifesto for the Future of the Book Business. For those still thinking about their vision, the deadline has now been extended to 7th September. Your statement, preferably no more than 500 words, should be sent to by then.

Please send along a headshot and short bio with your manifesto. And mark your diary for The FutureBook Conference, 4th December, The Mermaid, London. More details are coming Tuesday 8th September.

#FutureBook15 manifestos published to date:

Main image - iStockphoto: Tarchysnik