Also available on SYP Scotland’s blog | Have publishers travelled far enough in search of the new? That’s the question Faber & Faber Publisher Stephen Page poses for his FutureBook keynote.
“I’m no fan of the new normal,” he says. It’s lazy, encourages complacency. He looks to The Martian, and wonders, why are people so keen to get off of the planet? Mars is, generally considered, the future.
“We’re not on a dying planet,” he says, turning to publishing. “We’re on a changed one.”
There has been a sense of relief, but he sees it as some dynamic equilibrium. Bookshops are up, e-books have levelled out, there’s been expansion but nothing has replaced the physical book. But we all look to the future, with fear of the next way that the book will be killed: Hachette’s Michael Pietsch just wrote an article on the Future of Publishing, that he highly recommends.
Despite a profound cultural change, books are resilient. “I feel confident,” he admits. They must supply a hungry and intelligent market of readers with good books, not a string of hits and misses in hope of success. He refers to the expansion of the Independent Alliance as a manifestation of this confidence, that the book industry has evolved successfully over the last decade.
“I have a sense of opportunity,” Stephen says, moving onto his five main points.
1. Shops aren’t dead.
He recalls recently a friend simply said ‘Shops don’t suck’ in a surprised manner.
“They never have, and never will,” he says. When it comes to Amazon’s new bookstore, his question is really, “What the hell took you so long?” Every other bookshop is an omni-seller, online and offline. It’s critical to the nature of the physical bookshop. Futuregazing assumed that the physical world was done, but everyone upped their game and consumers responded.
2. Mobile is the Zero Law of 21st Century Publishing.
“Without understanding of it, we may not be able to make new audiences.”
He rounds off staggering statistics on mobile and smartphones, how those with 4G shop twice as long and shop more, and the conception that it’s just teens is inaccurate. It is vital to the future. “We have to put mobile at the centre of our thinking.”
3. People I: Authors and Readers.
Publishers need to get how big their marketing is, “creating not exploiting” roads for authors. There are the Vloggers who can naturally create sales from their following, but it’s not the case across the board.
4. People II: Who Will Work in this Industry?
He refers jokingly to a quote that someone said that a paradigm shift can only happen when everyone from the last one is dead. But really, he thinks publishing should give the exciting new generation the chance to explore and adapt their companies, and seriously work on the diversity gap.
The industry has to offer meaning and intellectual challenge. It doesn’t occur to smart young people to look into publishing a lot of the time. “Attract the best minds, we will thrive as an industry.”
5. Not Book.
When looking at the robustness of the physical book, perhaps it had to stay the same to help people cope as the world changed around them. “This is not about replacing the book,” he notes, “but finding new opportunities.” Some of their newest directions are focussed online, without deterring from the printed product at their core.
“The Book needs little solving,” he concludes, “but Not Book is a whole universe to explore.”