FutureBook Innovation Workshop '11 - takeaways

These are the things I remember from #fiw11:

Ken Follet's book, Fall of Giants, has been given a 3D audio soundtrack. This is clever because sound is a sense input into the brain and reading is cognitive, so the brain can do both and not explode. Also, it works.


Wrigley's Chewing Gum can cause you to be trapped in a space ship in total darkness and eaten by aliens.


There was a nice lady with a magic book which opened and poems came out into the air.

Other than that...

There was a slightly rueful sense of consolidation; Peter Collingridge talked a little bit about the problems of enhanced editions and the eponymous outfit. The phrase "it doesn't make money" sometimes followed by an optimistic "yet" was generally very much in evidence in the talks. The wise words "good work deserves to cost money" were spoken firmly, for which relief much thanks. It's not just publishing which is coming of age digitally - it's digital habits themselves, apparently. People are waking up to the fact that stuff has a value, and an investment cost, and not everything can be free.

That said, free still worked as a self-promotion strategy. Probably, it always will.

There was an interesting Predictably Irrational moment from @millsustwo - pricing the amazing Nursery Rhymes app at 59p got ustwo a lot of complaints about price. Not so at £1.79...

(Incidentally: best ever headline for an app review.)

But the takeaway for me was sound. Sound is cheaper and easier than images, and you don't have to break from reading to absorb it. Ambience sound, 3D or otherwise, blankets the chattering people on the train around you, brings your environment that much closer to Paperspace (that's the analogue version of Cyberspace, by the way, which is clever because almost no one except the NSA still talks about Cyberspace. Which makes me wonder how many people went into the NSA because they were Neuromancer fans.)

Sound is clever - if it's well-designed so as to be atmospheric and not intrusive. It can be pegged to what the reader is reading fairly exactly. It seems to draw people in, and can - by itself - tell quite a lot of a story. Radio drama lives again? We'll see. But that's the point: with radio, as with text, if you want ten thousand elephants, you can have 'em. And they can dance like Fred Astaire.

The other clever thing which I now remember is:

Directing the eye of the reader - or at least, knowing where it is. 

This used to be a skill of TV and film directors. (Little bit more difficult in theatre.) But you can control to some extent where a reader is looking and they won't mind so long as there's something for them to read. You can show them a text line by line if you get the pacing right. Which allows you to do very specific things with sound and so on.

Also interesting, though probably not commercially, is that some dyslexics find it much easier (or just 'possible') to read a book on a small screen which would have been a word soup on a standard page. I had a letter from a guy whose first ever novel experience was The Gone-Away World because he'd just got an iPhone and discovered he could read. (Made me cry.)

There was still a slightly disappointing sense of 'wait and see'.

Not that people weren't innovating, and indeed, not that they weren't innovating expensively. But - understandably on a commercial level - there was a feeling that that couldn't go on for ever. There had to be returns. And there will be, but they'll take longer. I just still didn't feel that we as an industry were going to carve out a new market or a new service or a new bundled concept and be the first there. We're still waiting to see what Amazon and Apple and Google do and then hoping they'll cut us in etc etc. We have to get there first one something to regain the high ground. No one leapt up and said "we're introducing an imprint-branded rewards scheme' or anything like that.

And that, I think, is the problem. We're innovating with products, which is good. But we're not innovating with services, with infrastructures. We're not chiseling away at anyone else's lock-in, we're not trying to construct our own. We're just trying to work through their bottlenecks. And that is a limited battleplan. The best we can hope for doing that is a negotiated armistice. We can't win that way.

That said:

It was a stonking event, with mucho brainpower in the room and a lot of cool things in concept and in execution. 



well made

Philip Jones's picture

Your last point is well made Nick. All the innovation in the world isn't going to save the book biz if we have to rely on amazon and apple alone.

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