FutureBook Live is an annual conference set up by the Bookseller to focus on innovation in publishing. This year the two main areas up for discussion were EdTech and audio.

Molly Flatt, of The Bookseller, opened the conference by asking the question: ‘how do we make people care about what we do?’ This is potentially very difficult in a world where people are more used to scrolling through their social media, reading short posts, or gaming than reading long books. This came up again in Sophia Thakur’s keynote speech at the very end of the conference: she said that in order to commit to reading a book, people really need to have an immediate emotional connection or investment in the content because our attention spans have been whittled away by 280-character mini-essays.

Not to worry, though! Other industries have developed the tech that we could use in innovative ways to engage readers where the ‘traditional’ print book might fail. Of course, it’s up to us to creatively adapt this technology, which speakers Muki Kulhan, of Muki International, and Tracey Follows, of Futuremade, discussed at length. Muki is a big proponent of taking chances. There will be a large element of risk involved in utilising AI, for example, in the publishing industry, but, as Sam Conniff Allende, said in a later panel discussion, we are an embarrassingly risk-averse industry and that needs to change.

Muki touched on some innovations in other industries that are relevant to publishing:

  1. The rap artist Harry Shotta has released a concept album called ‘Consequences’ where the lyrics lead the listener from location to location. At each place, the listener can decide on a variety of virtual actions that they then have to deal with the consequences of.
  2. The Black Eyed Peas have collaborated with Marvel to create a printed comic, which, when used with an app, has interactive pop-outs.

Tracey also touched on some interesting innovations:

  1. Amazon Go stores don’t have checkouts – you simply pick up what you need and walk out. Your account is then charged for what you have taken.
  2. The Detour app is a location-aware audio tour app. It reads where you are and guides you verbally through a tour so you can look around you rather than staring at a map on your phone.
  3. The Beyond the Grave app enables users to talk with their deceased friends and relatives.

All of these examples show that we are moving away from just screen-based visual interfaces and onto more conversational assistance, which could spell real trouble for the publishing industry if we don’t get involved.

Tracey went on to discuss how social media has enabled women to bypass institutional hierarchy and be truly heard. Similarly, it enables us to craft our own identities; gender markers, traditionally used extensively in product placement and online forms, are diminishing. Technology is therefore adapting by finding new ways of categorising people in order to optimise experience as we become less defined by gender and more open to virtual experiences and relationships.

After hearing about all the tech out there that we could be using but currently aren’t, David Shelley reminded us all about the things we have already achieved, such as how we use data to minimise wastage, how audio is tapping into new audiences and how ‘disruption’ is helping us move on as an industry. His caution at the end, though, was that we have a long way to go and our achievements shouldn’t make us complacent.

After the opening keynote speeches came the panel discussions, which covered a huge amount of more specific detail about EdTech and audio. The main things I took away from these were:

  • Technology is just a tool. Innovation is the creative use of that technology.
  • The teacher is the most important factor in learning, so EdTech provides the tools to help teachers.
  • Audio is about more than just audiobooks.
  • Original audio can be: original content written for audio, the repurposing of existing written material for audio, or content that only works in audio format.
  • Audio can tap into a new audience. Audio can actually be more accessible – people who don’t enjoy reading can access the same content. Also, people may feel that they can listen to content they would never read in a book because they would never buy a book on that subject  (particularly relevant with books on mental health).
  • Audio content can be personalised to the listener when accessed through smart speakers to allow for an interactive experience.
  • Publishing is very risk averse and has a ‘no’ culture that we need to change in order to adapt with the times (especially with regards to our move towards conversational assistance).
  • Data can be used to help us measure the success of books by parameters other than profit. Parameters such as the emotional wellbeing or mental health of the reader.
  • Individuals in publishing should have more of a ‘growth mindset’ in order to help them truly innovate and adapt with the times.

The conference was closed by the mesmerising ‘provocative creator’ and poet Sophia Thakur, who performed some of her poetry and inspired and challenged us all to simply create content for the reader, a lovely reminder of our true purpose after a long day learning about new things.

At Newgen we are always looking out for new technology and ways of working. Contact us today to find out how we can help you deliver content to your market.