Futurebook 2013 – one delegate’s view

By on November 15th, 2013 in Events

The Futurebook conference purports to distill the latest thinking on the future of publishing. I haven’t been before but I would imagine that when it started this would have been groundbreaking stuff, shaking up the establishment and scaring the bejesus out of the delegates with predictions of the end of the world as we know it.

Well things have moved on. Digital publishing is now mainstream and speaker after speaker from Charlie Redmayne, George Walkley to Sara Lloyd stressed that ‘digital’ is now built in to all our jobs. Cut a  ‘modern publisher’ in half and, like a stick of rock , you will see digital running right through to the core.

So in this changed landscape, does Futurebook still have something to teach us?

Well, yes, but probably in small nuggets rather than by the spade-full. To be honest I didn’t hear anything revolutionary, no big idea that blew my socks off – but there were several key inspirational points some of which I share below.

Charlie Redmayne talked a lot of sense.

Customer insight is key. As an industry we need the skills and understanding of how this dark art works in order to moved forward. As if to underline this point, Dead Good Books went on to win digital marketing campaign in the Innovation Awards – a website built around an understanding of the way consumers search and consume crime drama (both onscreen and in published format).

Kobo’s ‘erotica gate’ was the stand-out presentation. The right blend of wit, appropriate visuals and behind-the-scene insight to captivate the audience and demonstrate the extraordinary measures that had to be taken to eradicate inappropriate self-published  ‘active erotica’ from their store without censoring the rest. And the incident served as a (unintentional?) demonstration of why we need publishers as intermediaries.

I came away with new respect for independent authors courtesy of Joanna Penn who dared to tell a room full of publishers how to market their titles. My initial ‘grandma to suck eggs’ opinion quickly disappeared when she made some very valid, and seldom implemented, points about driving online sign-ups using in-book advertising . She is also a great believer in the perma-free pricing model to help build an ongoing audience. I am not sure all authors and publishers will be as easy to convince as I was.

Disappointingly one entire session turned into a thinly veiled sales pitch by a couple of the presenters, and the big ideas session suffered from a lack of ideas that were, well, big. However the ever-entertaining Jamie Byng’s call to reduce output although not a new idea, gains extra traction in an digital landscape where we need extra time to fully exploit  all avenues of content usage.

But the best call to action was Rebecca Smart’s ‘Why are we so bloody slow?’ Why do books take 12 months plus to produce – we need to be quicker. This held the most resonance for me and actually applies to the pace of change in the industry as well.

Many speakers were quick to point out that publishing has always been an industry of innovation, of change, of delivering new formats. But sometimes we are a bit slow off the mark doing so and are either forced (abolition of the NBA) or outwitted (Amazon). We need to look at our workflow and ask ourselves how we can deliver added-value to authors, and do it more quickly.

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