Report from Futurebook 2014

Posted on November 24, 2014 in Uncategorized

by Jasmin Kirkbride @JasminKirkbride


Publishing is in industry in flux. Faced with a digital revolution, we are quickly learning to embrace change and innovation, and this was clearly illustrated at the FutureBook 2014 conference.

Held in the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Hall in Westminster, this was the fourth FutureBook conference, boasting over 700 attendees and more than 40 speakers. It’s the biggest digital publishing conference in Europe, bringing together the movers and shakers from across Publishing and outside of it, to discuss the future of the industry and what technology might disrupt us next.

George Berkowski of Halo kicked off the proceedings, reminding us that our competitors are not the Big Five or independent publishers, but the companies creating the latest whizz-bang apps, films and games. Picking up on a theme of the day, he emphasised the need to integrate further with other industries. Books are no longer the only source for entertainment and we need to be prepared to compete on a much larger scale. Former director of the Huffington Post, Carla Buzaski, global CEO of WGSN, followed up by emphasising that we have to chase audiences rather than revenues in order to achieve successful sales.

On a notably less revolutionary note, Penguin Random House chief executive Tom Weldon closed the keynotes by asserting that the current retail models in Publishing are not broken and that there is no need to use subscription models. A storm of Tweets followed this announcement, setting up a mood of jovial online debate for the rest of the conference.

After this, the day was taken up by eight panels and talks held simultaneously in two separate rooms, giving rise to great lunchtime chatter, as everyone tried to catch up with what had been happening elsewhere. One of the brilliant things about FutureBook is that nobody comes away with exactly the same experience, allowing for a plethora of new ideas to arise in the aftermath.

Late afternoon gave way to some stellar pitches from this year’s FutureBook Hack participants, followed by twelve Big Ideas from Publishing pros. These included inter-industry job-exchanges from Alex Hardy and a promotion of the new Ethical Author code by Orna Ross. Last came the FutureBook Innovation Awards, an inspiring close to a thought-provoking day.

In the last year, it feels as if there has been a significant shift in Publishing’s collective attitude towards digital. During March’s London Book Fair, there was still a lot of panic on the ground about digital, despite its promotion at the Fair itself. Conversely, FutureBook, and Frankfurt before it, both felt more relaxed.

One colleague wondered if the light atmosphere at FutureBook was because of Amazon and Hachette coming to an agreement that morning, but I’m more optimistic. It seems like we’re getting used to digital. If publishing goes down, it won’t be because of digital but because of our failure to react to it. The digital revolution is not as scary as it once was and we’re learning how to handle it. All we have to do is keep on innovating.