FutureBook was the best publishing event I’ve been to in a long time: exciting, informative, full of lively and creative people. Now, finally, it is clear that digital HAS happened and is not some distant prospect which have to think about in the future.
The good news is that digital technology is possibly the best thing to happen to publishing since the 18th-century reading boom (which I suppose ended up with the Penguin paperback?). We can now make wonderfully imaginative and creative ‘things’, whether they’re apps, online, enhanced e-books, without the printing and paper costs. You only had to listen to Max Whitby's inspiring talk about Touch Press's commercially successful and highly innovative periodic table app to imagine that perhaps the days of dull celebrity autobiographies might soon be over.
Publishing is at a junction with obscurity in one direction, and opportunities the other. We do seem to keep getting stuck though, over issues of copyright and the revenues split between publisher and author/agent (see John Pettigrew’s blog on this earlier). What we really need at this point is the freedom to develop truly innovative new ways of creating additional book products and to develop new markets without being stymied by endless circular arguments about exactly how the money will be shared out and obsessing about digital copyright. These things are obviously important, but they are not the only consideration. As many said at the conference the best way around the threat of piracy is to create such brilliant, gorgeous digital products that punters will happily pay for them. I was sitting there during Henry Volans’ talk about all the wonderful things Faber were doing, thinking that I’d happily pay £15 to have a little more Malcolm Tucker in my life.
If publishers can make digital publishing work and create a sustainable business, then we'll all benefit and end up with a richer, more varied culture at the same time.
But we do need to move fast and be nimble in our approach: which is why smaller companies have the edge here. As Suzanne Kavanagh (Skillset) made clear we, as an industry, are spending far less than other creative industries on training, which with so few new recruits is a recipe for disaster. The Publishing Training Centre has a whole raft of new digital courses for publishers. I attended their Digital Publisher course last month and it was excellent: lots of useful practical advice and plenty of discussion of what's possible. Digital specialist, Jon White showed us the future and it looked pretty encouraging (if a little daunting on occasion).
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