Entrepreneur and web sceptic Andrew Keen has predicted the book industry is on the verge of a "renaissance" and urged publishers to "build on your luck" as the physical book becomes attractive to younger audiences in a "post-truth world".
Speaking at The Bookseller's FutureBook Conference at 155 Bishopsgate in London on Friday (2nd December), Keen urged publishers to "wake up" to the huge data age, but to be "bullish" in engaging with customers. He argued that publishers needed to "sex up" what they have to offer in terms of curated, reliable content in the context of a world where there is "a real hole in our culture" manifested by Brexit and the election of Donald Trump in the US.
"We are living in a time where information is of course free and extremely unreliable, mostly propagandist," he said. "More and more of what we read on the internet isn't true, and of course we see with the Trump election, in particular, that this isn't just an abstract intellectual crisis, it's also having huge implicaitons on our culture, on our politics; we're electing people who lie all the time, we're electing political movements and ideas that don't have any credibility."
A second "crisis", he argued, was the fact it is increasingly hard for artists to make a living, naming the revenue streams for artists "a catastrophe". In this context, where he observed both the music and newspaper businesses had been "decimated", he called the book industry "lucky" to have such a "long-lasting medium", which, like vinyl, he suggested was on the brink of becoming even more popular as digital natives become weary of digital.
"Your industry needs to take advantage of this particular situation, because this cultural crisis is not just the flavour of the month, this is the beginning of a serious rethinking of the nature of information in a digitial age which promised so much and delivered so little. So my advice to you would be to be unbookish and to show off, stress the fact that your industry is still creating works of value in a post-truth age, in an age where the most popular networks are those which destroy photographs after a few seconds, in an age of the 140 character tweet, of the Facebook update, in the fake news of the post-truth age."
The winners he suggested would be those that are able to "marry the two [digital and physical] together", condemning those who go for an "all digital" policy, or who ignore entirely what is happening, to failure.
"I think that if you do that, responsibily and coherently, and maintain your traditional business model, your focus on this remarkably historic analogue product that generation after generation of consumers have loved, a product that creates real long-form value for a culutre in crisis, because of its ephemeral nature then I think you can do very well."
He added: "Because of the centrality of books in our culture, because of the growing appetite for understandng a world responsibly, because of the way in which technology will allow us to know more and more what everyone else is doing legally, I think you're on the verge of, if not a renaissance, certainly something very profitable, both in economic, cultural and intellectual terms."
Keen is the author of The Internet Is Not The Answer (Atlantic Books).