What does publishing look like to those who have worked in other industries, asked FutureBook's panel session "Publishing Through A Looking Glass: A View from Outside"?
Perminder Mann of Kings Road Publishing, a division of the Bonnier Publishing Group, previously worked for toy company Flair Leisure Products. She told delegates it was important to create products for a new generation consuming on multiple platforms simultaneously. Kings Road was on the cutting edge of app development, with the first app for Alfie Deyes' The Pointless Book, peaking at number two on iTunes, with over a quarter of a million downloads across the world, while the app for The Pointless Book 2 did even better. "They are alternative ways to engage with books, with hilarious exclusive videos", she says. A similar technique was employed for the Lucky app, for Professor Green: "It's a groundbreaking format we call videography," said Mann.
Caroline Raphael, who joined Penguin Random House Audio as editorial director in June, coming from a commissioning role at the BBC, said both roles involved very much the same tasks - commissioning, podcasts and websites, YouTube and Apps, live events and games, and audio. But working for a commercial company, she had become very aware that you can get excellent audio for nothing, she said. "There are no gatekeepers, so the standard is varied - but podcasts are a calling card, so talented people will do them for free." The BBC's recent introduction of DRM downloads, allowing the free download of content for a period of 30 days, added to the issue, she said.
The messaging around audiobooks also needs to change, Raphael said. "The messaging can't be convenience, because everything is convenient now. We need different messages: that to be read to by a first-class reader is a joy; that hearing [a book read in] the author's own words makes you tingle."
Tom Whitwell, senior consultant at Fluxx, asked publishers to consider why they handled product launches the "big company way", which went, roughly speaking: Idea, pitch, talk, research, talk, pitch, talk, get approval, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, launch, earn (hopefully). Instead, he suggested, they should learn the "start-up way", which meant spending just a small amount on an idea before taking it straight out to get insight from customers as the idea was developed. He referenced the growth of Airbnb, which was built organically with feedback from customers all along the way, with the founders tweaking their idea until they found what worked. "It's difficult to understand what the customer wants until they really start spending their own money," he said.
Meanwhile Douglas McCabe of Enders gave the analyst's perspective, saying that while the core value of books is resilient, smartphones represent a challenge. Smartphones are rapidly become the universal device, with time spent on them growing, while time spent on desktops and tablets was flat, he said. Ninety per cent of time spent on smartphones was spent on apps, with the majority of users downloading 120 apps but with very regular use of just six. Consumer behaviour is changing, and all media is diverging towards the micro and macro, he said.