Gathering data to create an informed picture of consumers, utilising the skills of all staff, and valuing BookTubers were among the suggestions put forward at the FutureBook Conference’s Big Ideas panel.
Kobo president Michael Tamblyn, who chaired the panel on Friday (14th November), began the session by putting forward two big ideas, “both opportunities, one that we used to have and want back and one that we’ve never had before but now can”.
His first big idea was that retailers needed to recreate the experience of browsing in store online, while his second was “about the kind of discovery we have never been able to have before”.
Digital metrics can tell publishers and retailers not just which e-books have been bought, but which have been read and finished, which helps “pierce the veil between what people say they like and what they read”.
Alex Hardy, media and entertainment lawyer at Harbottle & Lewis, said she wanted people in publishing to interact more with those in other creative industries.
She called her big idea “micro FutureBook” and said it involved people across creative industries getting together one-on-one to share ideas, learn about each other’s roles and shadow each other.
“Micro FutureBook can enable people to get fresh perspectives, [and] get new ideas, without having to leave the industry,” she said. “You’ll also be introducing new stakeholders who want to work with publishing.”
Entrepreneur Richard Nash advocated embracing technology and the concept of "the quantified self", gathering data to understand our needs and the choices we make. Nash said that while the area currently focuses on health, the same approach could be taken to reading. "We are tremendously irrational, but also tremendously susceptible", he said, meaning gathering data on our reading habits could be used to guide our future reading. "The greatest consumer insight we can give is consumer insight into his or her self."
Abbie Headon, managing and commissioning editor at Summersdale, suggested a more low key approach. "People power" was her idea, using staff and their ideas to share work and gather inspiration. "We have to realise how much potential we have in all the people in our companies," she said.
Books for all was Colin McElwee’s big idea. The co-founder of Worldreader, a non-profit with the aim of bringing digital books to every child and their family, said that publishers should not underestimate the power of basic phones for reading.
In sub-Saharan Africa, McElwee said, there are around 153m illiterate people, which he called an “enormous underestimation”.
But mobile connectivity in the region reaches 75% to 80% of the population, although it is 2G connectivity.
“People are reading on basic mobile phones,” McElwee said. “These small screens are a great delivery vehicle for long form [text].
“Create and design your content for a small Nokia screen and get it out there for people.”
Orna Ross, founder and director of The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), said her big idea was Ethical Author, a code of conduct for writers to sign up to.
YouTuber Rosianna Halse Rojas said publishers needed to start seeing the value of BookTubers - video bloggers who speak about books.
But, she said, publishers cannot buy their way into the BookTube community.
“BookTubers are among the most important and neglected group of influencers for the book industry,” she said. “Our viewers aren’t going to old media for book recommendations, they’re going to YouTube.
“These communities are to be valued, and these creators [need] not to be treated like any old reviewer.”
She also said publishers should “hire people who have engaged with and have knowledge of the [BookTube] community”.
Cyberlibris founder Eric Briys told the crowd that "the map is not the territory" and used the examples of Tube map designer Harry Beck and nurse Florence Nightingale to illustrate how changing how we approach data can change our thinking. By studying library book loans in a new way, he said that we could find new connections between titles and subjects, leading to different ways to present them.
Kingsford Campbell co-founder and former World Book Night director Julia Kingsford offered the idea of a more "sharable book", as a file that could be embedded like a YouTube video, or shared like a link, allowing us to access content more quickly through our mobiles.
The final speaker of the day was e-book pioneer Bob Stein, whose big idea was to embrace social reading, allowing people to collaborate when reading to share notes and ideas on texts, to further their own understanding of a book. Stein said that allowing a deeper engagement with a text could mean we don't look back in the future and see that we have "impoverished" our culture.