I don’t often go to publishing conferences (I think the last one I attended was Tools of Change in Bologna earlier this year), and I find that I get more out of each one as a result: every event becomes a snapshot of the state of the industry, and when they’re spread distantly over a calendar, the changes that have taken place become all the more visible.
Yesterday I went along to FutureBook’s third annual conference, and, perhaps inevitably, I think the things that struck me most about the day were the ways in which it was different from Tools of Change. The delegates weren’t just app developers and the “digital” people from publishing houses, but also the editors, publicists, marketers, production controllers, managing directors and CEOs. There were agents, academics, and journalists in attendance. The exponential growth in the volume of digital content being produced – and sales of the devices it is being produced for – means that “digital” is no longer a silo-ed part of the industry: it is something that matters to everyone.
And – perhaps for reasons related to the diversity of the attendees – whereas at Tools of Change, there was only one word (discoverability) on everybody’s lips, the talks at FutureBook ranged across a number of topics, from the ways in which publishers can harness data to shape their products, to the future of DRM. At times I couldn’t tell if it was the case that there wasn’t a single unifying theme to the day – or that there was, and that theme was “nobody knows anything”.
Although there was not a great deal related to children’s content (which often requires an entirely different set of sensibilities) or smaller publishers (making books based on the preferences of the people who visit your website is all very well if you are Penguin or The Guardian, and have millions of visitors every month, but would be rather ill-advised if your monthly traffic numbers only run into the tens of thousands), there were excellent talks from, amongst others, Stephen Page of Faber (later presented with the award for most inspiring digital publishing person), Michael Tamblyn of Kobo, Rebecca Smart of Osprey, and Dominique Raccah of Sourcebooks.
Raccah spoke engagingly about the digital products that Sourcebooks have produced, including Shakesperience, a set of interactive editions of Shakespeare’s plays for iBooks. There were audible gasps at the very notion that Shakespeare might need “enhancing”, but Raccah addressed this head on: the “Shakespeare Problem”, as she put it, is trying to teach the plays in an American high school classroom, and being met with boredom and resistance – adding audio and video performances (and, perhaps most importantly, interactive glossaries) can help alleviate these issues. Page’s speech, meanwhile – which was, I think, my favourite of the day – painted an uplifting picture of the industry as it stands: he managed to look to the future while also maintaining a healthy regard for physical, printed books.
The day concluded with the FutureBook Innovation Awards, for which Rounds: Franklin Frog was shortlisted in the category of Best Children’s App (an award Nosy Crow won last year for Cinderella). Alas, we were not to triumph on this occasion (the award went to Khoya, an interactive fantasy adventure for teenagers and adults) but are able, at least, to console ourselves with Rounds’ 5-star rating on iTunes and recognition from institutions such as Kirkus and Children’s Technology Review.
For a fuller picture of the day, you can read the collected tweets, media posts and blogs from the day at this Epilogger page. And if you were at the conference (or were following it with the #fbook12 hashtag), we’d love to hear what you thought of it.