Future Book Conference, 3rd December 2012

FB conf imageNigel Roby, Managing Director of the Bookseller started the conference by announcing this to be the biggest Futurebook conference to date. There were 38 speakers at the event and they honed in on the all important factor – ‘integration with digital’. With only 5% of print-only publishers in existence it’s all about how publishers can bring entertainment and content to their audience.

Kobo’s Mike Serbinis kick started the discussion with an introduction to Kobo, a company which has only been delivering reading resources for the last 3 years yet has managed to secure a 20% global market share. Their vision is to ensure that there is an e-reader for everyone and they firmly believe that within the next 25 years we will have made the print to digital transformation.

Dominic Rowell, MD of Lonely Planet, demonstrated how to stay on top in a dwindling travel guide market as they continue to maintain their place as No. 1 guide book publisher. Focusing their business across digital platforms and providing the consumer with travel solutions.

Charlie Redmayne, CEO of Pottermore, explained how they have built successful platforms for JK Rowling fans to explore content. Charlie described how publishers need to build brands and harness a fan base to ensure success in the digital age.

A highlight of the morning was an announcement from Foyles, they plan to open a new flagship store adopting a collaborative approach; opening up to the audience and the consumer to help plan and contribute ideas to how they can make the best bookshop.  Interesting themes and ideas arose from the days discussions which ranged from pricing structure and how to create an effective strategy for digital products, to how best to reach your digital consumer and understand them as well as sparking debate on the role of the literary agent and where this exists in the digital age.

The Future Publisher session presented some interesting viewpoints with Stephen Page CEO of Faber & Faber emphasising ‘writing for readers’, their search for ‘future book formats’ and the growth of Faber Social. Rebecca Smart, CEO of Osprey Group discussed partnering with other companies to add value for consumers and asked that key question: “are we meeting the needs of our consumers?”  Dominique Raccah, CEO of Sourcebooks focussed on the need to make books more personal and how they have developed this in their children’s books.

Anna Rafferty, Nick Sidwell and Michael Tamblyn chaired the panel: Harnessing data to shape your products, marketing and strategy. In using their brand, whether it’s Penguin, Guardian Books or Kobo, they are able to adopt different methods: a focussed email marketing strategy, data mining for specific information and also through blogging and asking their consumers what they want. The ability to harness data for any brand is a unique way of making your content and your product specialised to your specific market and we saw several fantastic examples of this.

In Transformation of the Academic market we heard about the Open Access model from Ziyad Marar, Global Publishing Director at Sage and the disruption in the market as well as the changes within Higher Education. He described 2012 as the “rise of the institutions”.  Neil Broomfield, Business Development Director, HE at Wiley talked about the year on year decline in print sales, and the strong need to address the fact that the majority of students have a preference for using mobile devices to study. Ruth Jones, Business Development Director for Ingram gave an excellent talk on Ingram’s e-text book platform, Vital Source and informed us of their delivery of 5 million eBooks during 2011.

We were certainly given food for thought when considering The Future of the Editorial Product; Katharine Reeve, head of MA Publishing at Bath Spa University advised publishers not just to think about the product but also about the role of the commissioning editors,” we need to re-think their traditional roles and start to think of how they can bring value to the changing industry as product developers. The speed in which digital is influencing the industry has tended to put publishers constantly on the back foot, the reality is that digital is giving us some amazing new opportunities to do things that are difficult to do with a book – we must utilise this opportunity”, she said.

A talk on the International Perspective saw Barnes and Noble, Txtr and RCS Libri talking about expansion into markets outside of the UK and the US, key areas being South Africa, Portugal, Brazil and the Netherlands. The Nook defined its unique selling point as providing entertainment for the whole family, on shared devices. Txtr talked about developing into the Malaysian market where the primary device is the smartphone; they have created the innovative Txtr Beagle where content is downloaded via the phone and then Bluetooth to the device. Marcello Vena talked about unlimited book browsing on high speed trains in Europe, highlighting that digital is not just about the product it is also about the service.

The conference ended with a final panel of experts to talk about the future of publishing, they discussed whether other publishers can follow the Pottermore example, but Redmayne agreed that this probably was an exception. This sparked a debate on whether making content available reduces piracy, in the case of Pottermore and Pan Macmillan there has been no increase in piracy and the value of the author has been maintained. They concluded by saying how if publishers can drive consumers to a liberating retail experience with innovation and creativity then they can be successful in the digital age. It appears that the biggest lesson publishers have learned is that of the value of understanding the consumer and what they want.

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