FutureBook Live 2018 Programmers’ notes

Programmers’ notes

Innovation conundrum epitomises new publishing landscape


Molly Flatt @mollyflatt

hat does innovation mean in the book trade nowadays? As some- one who has co-programmed this year’s FutureBook Live conference (with dedicated AudioBook, EdTech and Play streams, 70 speakers, five keynotes, 10 mini-keynotes, nine panels, five awards, two live

How can we use everything we now have at our disposal to make this easier and quicker for our customers? Or make this more compelling than Netflix?

With thanks

We would like to thank all of the sponsors of FutureBook Live, and of FutureBook throughout the year, as well as the speakers, delegates and volunteers at this year’s conference.

+ Te front cover illustration is by Kirsty Latoya, a digital artist

and mental health advocate whose début Reflections of Me (OWNIT!) is published on 15th November.

pitch-offs, two workshops, one podcast symposium and one short-story competition), you would think I’d have something approaching an answer. Not a chance. You see, we’re publishing/writing/agenting/marketing/ bookselling in rather strange times. Eight years ago, when the FutureBook conference launched, there was a palpa- ble sense of excitement in the air. No one doubted that the “digital revolution” was going to tip the book industry on its head. New departments were formed. All kinds of weird and wonderful e-experiments proliferated. An army of amazing-sounding apps marched forth. Then disillusion set in. The experiments, more oſten than not, failed—or turned out to appeal to a very niche few. Most of the start-ups folded. Digital became an envi- ronment that everyone needed to learn how to swim in. Departments either dissolved or became siloed. And print sales rallied, leading many to conclude (in private, at least): “Why take a punt on risky new fixes if we ain’t broke?” It’s an understandable reaction; a timely push-back against expensive innovation for innovation’s sake. By now we’ve learnt that the future isn’t going to simply roll in on a shiny tech bandwagon (although FutureBook Live will certainly showcase what can be done with the latest VR, AR, AI, blockchain, etc). However, complacency at this point is uter madness. There’s plent more disruption on the way, from the rise of ever-smarter algorithms, to the changing brains of a generation brought up to scroll. So what does truly helpful, meaningful, impactful innovation look like now? I think, probably, it means something much more mundane and difficult to define than the big splashy projects of yore (fun though they are to watch). I think it looks like publishing people examining every tiny element of book making, spreading and selling, and asking a number of questions. How can we use every- thing we now have at our disposal to make this easier and quicker for our customers? How can we make this more compelling than Netflix? How can we use this to atract new audiences? How can we be more aligned with our values as a company? And how can we make more money? That may involve some pioneering technology, but it may not. It may involve an overhaul, but it’s more likely to require a small, smart hack. It may be achievable using skills and perspectives already present in your company, but it may require you to reach out to an expert outsider, or create a mutually beneficial cross-industry partnership. And you know the best place to get ideas for those hacks,

to stress-test your strategies, to upgrade your skills and to meet exciting new people for those all-important partner- ships? You’re standing in it. Welcome, dear un-complacent delegates, to FutureBook Live 2018...

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