Futurebook 2015 – five key takeaways

Futurebook 2015 – Friday 4th December, London

This was my first Futurebook conference, and it was inspiring. For me, a few themes emerged.

Here are my five takeaways (bringing in some relevant phrases that I noted from the talks):

  1. Can we make it better? Iterate, iterate iterate. Constant incremental improvement. Deliberate evolution. Test – a lot. Start small, test and grow. Have a kick-ass product. Use the data to improve the product. Collaborate with new technology.
  2. The “not book”. Events. Publishing/content ecosystem. Rather than change the book, develop what surrounds and supports it. Amplify and enhance.
  3. Customer-centricity. D2C, B2C. Connecting with the consumer. The new pampering. Love the data: collect, analyse, learn, use. Optimize ideas. Delight the customer. Publishers must understand mobile.
  4. Do more with existing content. Importance of the backlist. Integrate and leverage. From timely to timeless. Multiple formats. Repackage. Audio. Apps. Ecosystem (again).
  5. What is it for? Immersive reading. Enhance the reading experience. What do readers need? No-one really wants ketchup leather.

Here are the notes I made at the conference. They are personal and partial. I didn’t attend all the sessions, and the varying quantity of my notes for each section is a reflection of my own energy and concentration levels throughout the day…

Opening keynotes

Annette Thomas – Springer Nature

B2C is key for academic publishing. We can be part of the workflow of our customers – “integrating into the workflow” is something they’ve been thinking about quite a bit at MacMillan and Springer Nature.

How has change been implemented at MacMillan Science and Education? Making a restructure is not the same as making a change. Change has been achieved by transforming learning and discovery:

  1. Bring the separate companies in the group together to gain scale (a big change)
  2. Focus on constant incremental improvements
  3. Disruption! (we have put our flag firmly in the sand)

Try things out. Much won’t work, but some will. Be disciplined about investing in the future.

There have been a lot of changes to behind the scenes infrastructure. Bringing the company together at the London campus has helped to foster innovation. This year the science business is growing at three times the level of the rest of the industry. MacMillan/Springer Nature is achieving double digit growth and the company now has the number one position in open access, and they are also the world’s largest academic publisher. “We have reinvented academic publishing”.

What’s next?

It’s all about “open”. A new world of open research. Two thirds of Nature revenue is now from open access publishing. Not just open papers, but open data. Workflows can be open. Power is no longer in the proprietary, it’s in the open.

“Customer-centricity” is the buzzword. They are data driven, and the researcher is truly at the centre of everything they do. The researcher creates the content, consumes the content, and needs publishing for their career. The researcher drives the chain.

What do MacMillan/Springer Nature offer to the researcher? “The new pampering”. Publishing is about pampering our customers. It’s also about connecting ideas together.

Stephen Page – Faber & Faber

No fan of “the new normal” – it invites us to sit back, not lean in. Rather than “new normal”, a better description might be “unstable equilibrium”, this is dynamic.

Stephen feels confident of Faber’s ability to be the publisher they want to be. He has a sense of opportunity. How do we continue deliberate evolution? How do we derive value for writers? How do we gain attention from potential customers?

Five things:

  1. Shops aren’t dead. Stephen has been touring UK independent bookshops to try to get under the skin of today’s bookselling. Events are at the centre of the new book trade. Everything we do has to get better – iterate, iterate, iterate.
  2. Mobile is the zero law of 21st Century publishing. Publishers must understand mobile. 4G users shop online more than other mobile users.
  3. People I: Authors and Readers. Publishers will have to get clear about what their marketing is worth for individual authors. Some authors already have a good base.
  4. People II: Who will work in this industry? We need to give young people room to develop. Publishing needs to be attractive for bright young people.
  5. Not Book. Maybe long form, immersive reading is necessary. The physical book is different to online/mobile. This is not about replacing the book, but developing new opportunities around the book. (Look at the Pelican Books site – it’s really exciting.) Rather than change the book, develop what surrounds and supports it. Amplify and enhance.

Making a good future for writers and readers is about making a business between them.

Change does not mean the end of everything.

Susan JurevicsPottermore

Pottermore exists because of one person – JK Rowling. The aim is to engage and delight the wizarding community. Pottermore is now about ‘wizarding’, not just the Harry Potter books anymore. The new site is mobile first. Users can tap and swipe through it. Pottermore is now working with other retailers, most notably iBooks. The Harry Potter audiobooks are now also available via Audible.

Akala – musician, writer, poet

The aim of the Hip Hop Shakespeare company is to explode the myth of the mundane. Intellectual things are not boring.

Akala has self-published two books. His latest – A Conversation with Freedom is an audiobook EP. Akala performs at 150-200 live events a year and through this finds it easy to sell 2000 books per year to his fan base. At the gigs they sell more copies of the poems than the music, even though the price is higher. Interesting! Is the book seen as more valuable? Has music been devalued (seen as being available for nothing).

The pioneers of intelligent rap were the Wu Tang Clan. They used words like “benevolent” and “cometh”. They used Shakespearean words.

Are we doing everything we can to collaborate with new technology?

Face out: strategies that work and why

Jane Friedman – Open Road Media

Jane is former CEO of HarperCollins, and worked at Knopf in New York for many years before that.

Publishers typically focus on frontlist. Open Road Media specialises in bringing deep backlist back to life. “I want your backlist!”. Open Road has partnered with more than 40 publishers globally. To date they have had 15 million downloads – of deep, deep backlist books (1994 and earlier). They are a “pre-profit” company at the moment. They are now launching a D2C function.

Discovery is the key to successful publishing. Open Road has created a multimedia platform (audio, video, conversations and more). Their marketing is based around milestones and themes. You can come up with a milestone for every day of the year if you try. They also focus on content in verticals, eg marketing a group of “legal thrillers”.

Through “Early Bird Books” they have a daily deals newsletter. Only their books – but they do have 10,000! They offer free ebooks for one day, and they generally see an increase in sales of the paid version the next day. D2C is really important to us all. They are building websites and newsletters around verticals and are increasingly a digital company. They also tie up with partners, eg Yahoo Travel – people who like visiting haunted houses might want to read ghost stories.

Asi Sharabi – Lost.myName

Lost.myName is on the intersection of technology, storytelling and print. In 2.5 years the company has grown from 4 people to 65. They publish the world’s most technically advanced children’s books. Each book is individual for each child and is printed POD. The book includes the child’s own name, and also uses postcode information to include actual aerial views of the child’s own house and street.

They are a technology company that happens to make books. Personalised kids’ books have actually been around for many years, but have generally been very boring. The question they asked themselves was “can we make it better?” It was not a publishing pet project, it was a start up pet project. [Book recommendation: The Lean Startup by Eric Ries].

The company is obsessively iterating, improving the product. As of last Friday, they have sold one million copies. The book has been published in 9 languages and to customers in 158 countries.

Five things:

  1. Execution is everything. You need to have a kick ass product.
  2. Nothing is ever complete. Continuous improvement. Never be satisfied.
  3. Full stack publishing, and a scalable operation. 100% ownership and control of everything, including sales. This way you can improve and grow every part of the operation.
  4. Think global. Control all the rights so you can grow sales globally.
  5. Love the data. They call it “fundata”. Collect, analyse, learn, use.

Sarah McConvilleHarvard Business Review

Tips for success:

  1. Understand your audience
  2. Acquire and optimize ideas
  3. Have a direct relationship with the consumer
  4. Test – a lot!

HBR is not an academic publisher, although it is connected to Harvard University. HBR is a content engine. Its proposition is to deliver inspiring new ideas. But, people also need help applying those ideas, so HBR enables this too.

HBR is still available on the newsstand and via subscription, but going digital in 2011 was a game changer.

The HBR archive is very important. The popularity of this made them realise there is a lot of value in older content. They have a range of branded books which bring older content together, and now have 500 titles in the backlist. “Integrate and leverage”. “From timely to timeless”.

Five or six new articles a day are posted to the HBR website, and these articles often get turned into a more long lasting format.

They think in terms of the HBR ecosystem, and it is interesting to talk to authors about this ecosystem concept. One example of part of the ecosystem is the HBR Visual Library, which provides infographics (for premium subscribers) that people can use in their own presentations. They also provide book content in Powerpoint format, again for people to use in their own presentations. Saves time, but also gives users the gift of confidence.

HBR has worked with authors to turn their books into a toolkit for them to use at a strategy meeting. This a la carte offer (the charge is $250) is one of their bestselling products.

Another thing they offer is “playlists” – a curated collection of content around a theme.

Social is hugely important: LinkedIn, Twitter (bringing people to the website), Facebook, Instagram (particularly for promoting the content from their visual library). For the mobile user there is the HBR app.

HBR branded books are created if there is a minimum viable product. First step to to survey the audience, then sell the book as pdf. If the pdf sells well then a paperback is published. Examples of HBR series are the “HBR 10Must Reads” (essential content from the year, in ten themed volumes), and HBR Guides (skills based). Tools are embedded into books (eg video) for a premium price.

You should think about the physical properties of a book as well as digital (how does the jacket look as a thumbnail?).

HBR also runs events – there have been 75 in 2015. This ties in with the concept of taking an idea and turning it into multiple formats. You need to think about it as an ecosystem.

Morten Strunge – Mofibo

Mofibo is an ebook subscription service. “We are not in the book industry, we are in the entertainment industry.”

Profitability comes from:

  1. Getting the right mix of customers
  2. Recommendation and engagement

The new publishing: content unbound II

Ian Metcalfe – Hodder Faith

Talked about the NIV bible. They sell an MP3 version on CD for £40, which has sold really well. The Bible has 752,000 words. It s a big book, and people want to jump around in it, rather than read it through. Ebooks don’t do navigation, nor do audiobooks, so a new format was needed – an app. The app they produced is designed for normal people – it’s easy to read, easy to navigate, easy to listen to. You can buy a version with audio (narrated by David Suchet), and this version sells for £19.99. The app includes tools for navigating big content. It has micro-synchronisation of audio to text, so you can hear as you read. They have layered extra content onto a robust technical base.

Anna Gerber and Britt IversonVisual Editions

Editions at Play – a new product. It’s a bookstore for books that cannot be printed.

Question: what’s the next big book?

Answer: the mobile phone

An example of a book that cannot be printed is Raif Larsson’s – it uses Google streetview to narrate the book.

Editions at Play values:

  • Bookish
  • Unprintable
  • Delightful

Editions at Play behaviours:

  • Pages
  • Mobile
  • Dynamic

Laurence Howell – Audible

Audio is showing fantastic growth at the moment. 25 years ago a Penguin rep told him that audio is the future, so it feels slightly ironic that audio is now part of a conference on new ideas.

A good narrator can transform an ordinary book into a fantastic experience.

There is a huge gap between the amount of content available in audio compared with ebooks. To help tackle this, Audible established ACX (Audio Creators Exchange), where rights owners can get in touch with potential narrators etc.

With Audible you can listen and read at the same time. While you are reading the text on your Kindle the text is highlighted as you hear it.

Kiren Shoman – Sage

Talking about streaming video in the Higher Education environment. They sell bundled video content to institutions (500 videos per bundle).

Why video? Students expect visual stuff, and feel they learn more from video than from written notes. One lecturer explained that the reason they use video is so that students read more. Video enhances the reading experience. Sage are working on improving the accessibility of video (mobile responsiveness, transcripts, closed captions etc). Video comes to praise the book, not to bury it.

Tom WilliamsTouchpress

Touchpress was born in 2010. Their first app was “The Elements” which was very successful. They now have 30 apps, always ios, and have achieved 7 million downloads. Previous projects include “The Waste Land” which they produced with Faber, and also Iain Pears’ “Arcadia”.

This year has seen a change, as they have been working with music on a project with the Juilliard conservatory. There is a known, solid, market for classical music. What Touchpress is doing is classical music re-imagined. The app is available for free on the app store for AppleTV. For the project they collaborated with a company called “Symhony” (owned by Universal Studios), who make amazing visual representations of music. There have been 63,000 downloads to date, and it has been voted the best new app in 70 territories. Customers have come from 110 different countries.

Touchpress have been surprised how much of the content of the Juilliard app has been consumed in its total form. 70% of customers have watched the entire performance. (They expected people to dip in and out more.)

How to make it commercial? Customers will become a member of the Touchpress community, and this will be a community of high value customers. Their research has shown an overlap between those who drive a Lexus, own a Rolex, like shiny Apple gadgets, and who like classical music. That’s the group they are aiming for!

Free first, then subscribers.

The Academic Book of the Future

Introduction by Samantha Rayner, Director of Publishing at UCL. The Academic Book of the Future project is an AHRC/BL collaboration. Project team comprises Samantha Rayner, Nick Canty, Rebecca Lyons (all UCL); Simon Tanner and Marilyn Deegan (King’s College); and Michael Jubb. The project is running from October 2014 to end of September 2016 (so quite a short project).

The recent academic book week was a good amplifier for the project. You can follow on twitter @AcBookFuture and on Facebook.

Richard Fisher – formerly of CUP

Academic publishing is not a world of mobile.

There is a great deal of longevity and stability with academic publishers, and publisher continuity has had the effect of placing too much emphasis on the wrong things. 80% of HSS work is still sold in print form. 25-50% of revenue goes to intermediaries. These intermediaries have changed more than publishers have. Change has been in response to scale.

The permanence of scholarly book brands:

  • High entry costs
  • Long term gestation
  • Complex interaction of career, tenure, outputs and reputation, with scholarly conservatism reinforced by eg the REF
  • Continued (surprising?) survival of university presses, especially in North America
  • Cautious authorial response to digital opportunity

Looking ahead:

  • Numerous, small-scale open access publisher experiments, but these are artisanal, cottage-sized responses to a global challenge of over-production
  • Growing systematic and operational frictions in the intersection of book publishers, libraries, readers and authors

Suzanne KavanaghALPSP

How publisher networks help. The ALPSP has 330+ organizational members. Key focus is not for profits – societies, associations, university presses, NGOs, institutions and those that work with them. They have 250 publisher members.

The ALPSP focuses on four key areas:

  1. Connect
  2. Inform
  3. Develop
  4. Represent

See the ALPSP blog for information on conference talks etc.

“The Academic Book of the Future” has been published as a Palgrave Pivot. 180 print copies have been sold so far. The ebook is free to download online, and is highly recommended.

Academic book week was a great success. In terms of reach, it achieved 189 press pieces, in 21 countries and in 5 languages. Total estimated reach is 425 million people.

Lara SpeicherUCL Press

The revived UCL Press is the UK’s first fully open access press. It publishes scholarly monographs, short monographs, scholarly editions. 8 books have been published in 2015 and 20 books are planned for 2016, plus between 2 and 6 journals, to be available on Ingenta Connect.

3012 downloads to date for Lisa Jardine’s Temptation in the Archives, 762 downloads for Treasures from UCL.

A full launch for an enhanced UCL Press platform will take place in December 2015, including audio and annotation. This has been developed by Armadillo Systems.

They will be publishing many of the outputs from the Academic Book of the Future project. UCL is involved with BOOC (Books as Open Online Content). This is a way of having a living book which will evolve over time.

Anthony CondLiverpool University Press

To put into context the development of LUP in recent years: in 2004/5 they published 7 books and 3 journals. Ten years later, 2014/15, they published 85 books and 25 journals.

LUP aims to achieve a balance between:

The traditional:

  • Peer review
  • Experienced editors
  • Engagement with academics
  • Robust editorial board

And the new:

  • A plurality of models
  • Systems and staff
  • International partnerships
  • Embrace risk
  • What is it for?

A key factor is the domination of Open Access.

LUP are actively exploring new kinds of projects, which make the most of requirements and resources close to their home institution. For example, they are currently working on two projects in collaboration with JISC which are based on the requirements of their own faculty. One is to produce bespoke content for the Essentials of Financial Project Management course, and if this replaces the existing textbooks, the saving would be around £56,000 per annum. The other project is called “Using Primary Resources”. This highlights resources to help academics.

Crowdfunding is an interesting idea too. As an example, look at Historic England’s (formerly English Heritage) Unbound crowdfunding page for a book on Capability Brown.

What is it for? On this, read Tom Mole’s chapter from the Palgrave Pivot collection (The Academic Book of the Future).

Looking ahead, in March 2016 Liverpool University Press are organizing the first University Presses conference for the UK. This is already attracting a lot of interest.

Breaking the Page – a digital book design workshop – led by Peter Meyers, with contributions from previous presenters

What do readers need? If we lose sight of this we get innovation for innovation’s sake. Enhanced ebooks are the ketchup leather (Google it!) of the publishing world.

Paul Cameron, Booktrack – they add soundtracks to books; music which complements the book, acts as background music when you’re reading (it matches the mood). They noticed that books are the only large scale entertainment which does not have a sound element. They rely on word of mouth to get the word out about their product. For this to work, the sharing experience needs to be seamless. Has to be very easy to share and recommend.

Kiren Shoman, Sage – Routes to market; different ways to think about D2C, eg corporate training, MOOCs. Repackage content.

Emily Labram, HarperCollins – Product development is based on a mix of lean research (put the word out informally) and proper market research (more expensive). Make assumptions, then test them. Published extracts from Game of Thrones as a way of promoting the whole book(s). 42 extracts made available, and curation means that you can pick exciting extracts while avoiding spoilers.

Enhanced ebooks – the enhancements tend to have the result of distracting you from reading. Need to think hard about how to enhance rather than ruin the reading experience.

Publishing through a looking glass: a view from the outside

Perminder Mann – Kings Road Publishing

Kings Road has four imprints. All are multifaceted and multimedia. The USP of the Blink imprint is speed to market; books are produced quickly, sometimes taking only a few weeks. They only publish 30 books per year. This is deliberate, so that they can get full publicity behind each title. Creative, intelligent marketing – includes video trailers. Marketing work very closely with PR and Publicity teams. New product types, for example “Lucky” by Professor Green – they call it videography (video + autobiography).

Douglas McCabe – Enders Analysis

Douglas McCabe is a content/commerce specialist.

  • Web – 1995
  • Smartphones – 2007
  • Tablets – 2010
  • Now: Apps to apps, and connected devices

Media has moved from push to pull, and back to (a different kind of) push. Media is moving towards a subscriber and membership model.

Caroline Raphael – PRH (Penguin Random House) Audio

Has moved from BBC radio to audio books at Penguin Random House. Fulfils a very similar function as she did previously:

  • Commissions writers
  • Podcasts and websites
  • Youtube and apps
  • Live events and games
  • Partnerships
  • Exploits IP

Podcasting is eavesdropping raised to new heights. There is a competitive battle between podcasts and audio.

Tom Whitwell – Flux[x]

How to make good things happen for not much money. How do we know whether an idea is any good or not?

The Big Company Way:

IDEA – pitch – talk – research – get approval – spend – spend – spend – spend – launch – earn (hopefully)

The Startup way:

IDEA – spend – launch – earn – spend – launch – earn – spend – launch – earn

Start with the smallest way to earn money, then grow. Iterate and grow. Get customer/user feedback along the way. Build something organically all the way through.

Think: How do you build something small, and how do you expand it?

Here are some questions about books from an outsider:

  • Why don’t authors have the email addresses of all their readers?
  • What experience is a book reader paying for?
  • Why do you keep publishing new books when there are so many old ones that have already been written?
  • Why do publishers build apps?
  • Why do publishers celebrate when ebook sales fall?
  • What is the competition for a book reader’s attention?

Understand what the product is and what the consumer is getting from it.

Publishing is guilty of oversupply. Why don’t publishers publish fewer books and put more effort into marketing them?

Closing KeynoteCharlie Redmayne, HarperCollins UK

Risk, opportunity, and writing our own future.

  • Keeping authors at the heart of what we do
  • Investing, building and managing authors’ careers
  • Telling stories, across different platforms

Key themes:

Embracing technology, embracing startups. Continued growth of the ebook market. Revival of print books. Rise of self-publishing – a problem for traditional publishers. Revival of Waterstones under James Daunt. Growth of audio – for too long, publishers have sat on audio rights (allowing Amazon, via Audible, to step in and take over if publishers do not look at audio). Relentless innovation of Amazon.

As an industry we have more and more data. Publishers need to take data security seriously, be aware of hackers. Be careful what you write in emails, assume it will be made public. Take financial security seriously.

Amazon’s impact continues to grow. Their focus is changing, and they are now looking for margin. Amazon cares about customers and shareholders; publishers care about authors.

HarperCollins has global reach. Theirs is not a process driven system, they take a different approach for different countries (for example different cover designs).

Emailing at scale offers a chance to test, iterate, improve. Bookperk. Cookperk.

Inflexible attitude to rights is a significant barrier for their global publishing programme. Ability to have a valuable offer to authors is challenged by the rights issue; rights restrictions restrict the ability to publish on multiple platforms.

We ignore our rich backlist at our peril. The Mog/Judith Kerr campaign (linked with the Sainsburys Christmas ad campaign) has shown how much demand there can be for older titles (and related merchandise).