Now in its fourth year, the audio strand of FutureBook reflects the depth of the sector and its sheer variety, with all corners of the book trade catered for.
The audiobook strand of FutureBook Live is tasked with turning the volume up on the burgeoning spoken-word sector, while analysing the trends and developments that are underpinning its rise. It will also ask how booksellers can sell audio content, what writing for audio really means, and how the busy podcast market is bringing in new listeners for all content.
Speakers include Lee Langford from Harris Interactive, who will unveil exclusive research into the audio market, and Paul Abbassi, founder of charts company Bookstat, who will follow up his morning keynote with a deep dive into what is actually selling in audio. The 11 a.m. session, Generation headphone: who is consuming audio and what are they listening to, will also feature Susie Warhurst, senior vice-president of content for podcast platform acast, who will provide an overview of the podcast sector and how it might affect authors and publishers.
The midday session, Storysellers: how to make digital content work in physical places, will explore whether there is an opportunity for booksellers to retail digital audio, and how recent changes in how libraries can distribute digital content will affect their users. The panel includes Scottish bookseller Rosamund de la Hey of The Mainstreet Trading Company, who called for publishers to be inclusive of bookshops when publishing audio, in a piece The Bookseller published in June. Mark Pearson, co-founder of audiobook start-up Libro.fm, has one answer: his site enables indies to sell audio downloads via a custom-made Libro page. Equally important is how libraries push digital content, with Carol Boswarthack, head of Barbican and Community Libraries, calling on publishers to ease terms over digital content loaning. "If we don’t make it as easy as possible for people to read, and read how they want, there are so many other options for them to do something else instead. If we don’t get people to read we’re sleepwalking into oblivion," she told The Bookseller in July. Also joining the panel is Matt Keudel, country manager of Tonies, which produces an audiobooks speaker for children.
The growth of the sector has led to questions over how much audio listeners can consume, and what the growth areas are. The panel at 2 p.m., Word up: who is commissioning audio now, and who is the audience?, will answer these questions with panelists from the BBC, US audio publisher Recorded Books, and Blinkist, the non-fiction audio platform that is to move into standalone commissioning. Also on the panel is Ruth Fitzsimons, founder of start-up Podfront, who believes that 2020 will be the year of the narrative fiction podcast, as listeners become increasingly catholic in their tastes.
The fourth panel on the day will ask audio experts for their tips on how to tackle recording difficult books or projects. Recording the unrecordable: how to walk the talk, at 2.55 p.m., will be chaired by Alice Lloyd, commissioning editor for audio and podcasts at Orion. DK audio and digital manager Elise Italiaander, freelance producer Ella Watts, artificial intelligence specialist Guy Gadney, and Catherine Thompson, who runs audio publisher Ulverscroft’s recording studios, will attempt to come up with solutions to today’s recording challenges, and offer sage advice.
How should we write for audio? That’s the topic of the final panel on the day, which follows the announcement of the winner of FutureBook’s audio originals competition, run with Heavy Entertainment, Curtis Brown and audio business Bolinda. The panel, which will include the winning author, will discuss how the story was developed for audio, and why the judges picked the winning submission. Delegates will also be able to listen to an exclusive airing of the recording, and quiz the panel over the stories that failed to make the grade. In addition to the panels, Bookwire, the digital distribution company, is to run a masterclass for attending publishers on when to stop selling rights and begin publishing audio, run by audio specialist Videl Bar-Kar.
Philip Jones, editor of The Bookseller, said: "Now in its fourth year, the audiobook stream continues to evolve as the market for audio blossoms. This year we are looking at everything from who buys audio, to how booksellers can sell it; we’ll be asking who is commissioning what, and for whom; and how new technologies will advance what we can record and listen to. Most importantly, we’ll be arming our audience with data and insight so they can judge for themselves how best to approach this increasingly vital market."