Creating the “smart book” … bringing the world’s publishers together to create the Netflix of books

November 27, 2017

The Future Book Forum is the world’s largest gathering of book publishers and printers, exploring the best new ideas for innovation and growth. Enabled by Canon, the event is fast and inspiring, practical and collaborative.

This year we want to go further, again. We want to create the “smart book“. Forget the artificial division of print and digital, people consume knowledge across platforms, and therefore the best books embrace both worlds too.

Future Book Forum 2016: Insights and Ideas

Look beyond the book

Most books start with an author and idea, then seek an audience. We wanted to start from the target audience, their issues and aspirations. Design thinking is all about finding the right problem to solve, by understanding people more deeply, then quickly developing hypotheses and concepts to help stretch and shape their ideas further.

Insights that emerged, applicable to all books, included:

  • “Book” is a bigger concept than a book … content which can be shared in any format and platform, which can also be interactive and evolving over time. It’s therefore more than content too.
  • “Connect, context, content” … Start with the audience, develop a title and solution around their context, and only then create focused and relevant content.
  • Develop a thread beyond a physical book … that starts from where the audience starts, then connect platforms to share initial knowledge, building interaction over time.

Design the right experience … platforms and content, conversations and community

Having agreed a clear direction for the concept, we were now more easily able to focus on the user experience. Starting from the different audience motivations, to follow a journey through which the book can be introduced, stimulate, facilitate, support and keep evolving over time. This includes how to combines apps, websites, books of different formats, events, workshops and interactions. Only once the user experience is defined, should we think about the production process, including for example how digital technologies can deliver new business models (like pay per chapter), custom branded (like sponsors), personalised content, global delivery on demand, and the ability to stay updated.

Insights that emerged, applicable to all books, included:

  • Each platform has purpose … each format of content (app, website, book, etc) has a distinct, complementary and supporting purpose, creating a value-adding (amplifying) user journey.
  • Content beyond words … Text is heavy and dry. Think how to use different types of graphics – from cartoons to photos, infographics, lists, Q&A, dialogue, video, podcasts, more.
  • Content to conversation to community … communication is by definition two-way, but books limit this. How to use multi formats to create interaction, a conversation that grows as a movement.

Engage and grow together … engage people deeper, enable more, grow the book

Most publishers are incredibly poor at marketing their books. It is published and forgotten within weeks (maybe days). Yet books are just the starting point – of a conversation, of a community. They are the idea catalysts to build interaction, define an agenda, mobilise people and interest and actions. This is how people get more value, and where publishers can realise more value, and drive profitable growth. What is the market model (distribution channels, pricing formats and levels, business model, communication activity)? How will the book be activated and sustained (interplay of formats and audiences, relationship building, updating content, adding new, building conversation, a real community, building a brand)?

Insights that emerged, applicable to all books, included:

  • Engage people creatively … more human, more distinctive, more meaningful pre-launch promotional activity, then gradual launch of formats/packages (like movie launches).
  • Modular pricing … Packaging of content “HML” for pricing, with options for micro/custom payments (e.g. chapters) or inclusive (subscription). Freemium to make access simple bottom-up.
  • The growing book … keep refreshing, adding, reinventing the concept so that the book evolves over time, getting richer and better. Becoming a brand beyond a book.

Read more about last year’s event

Future Book Forum 2017: Introduction

The Future Book Forum has become one of Europe’s largest gatherings of book publishers and printers, exploring the best new ideas for innovation and growth. With the generous support of Canon, the event is fast and inspiring, practical and collaborative.

Over the last 4 years we set out an an ambitious journey, to define a better future for the book. Whilst we all recognise that digital technologies have fundamentally transformed lives and industries, we also recognised that it can also enhance the physical world. Making real things – in our case, books – even more personal, intelligent and useful. 
 
We started by creating a future vision for the book publishing industry, one in which publishers and printers, authors and readers, could work together to create more inspiring and more profitable experiences. Whilst most discussion tends to focus on the digital impact of online distribution and digital formats, and there are clear benefits to adopting digital technologies in the supply chain for printing on demand and personalisation, we wanted to go beyond this.
 
Most importantly we needed to understand the outside world – the changing customer. For every one of us, the way we shop, the way we stay in touch with friends, the way in which we learn, the way in which we are entertained has been quite dramatically changed. Whilst young people have naturally embraced a new world, largely centred around their smart phones, every age group, at work and home have migrated to new ways of gaining and sharing content.
 
We then looked at the business model. Digital printing technologies offered in simple way to reduce the risk in publishing, being able to print small batches on demand, develop regular updates and special editions, reduce warehouse stocks and speed up time to market. But this is largely a story of cost efficiency. We explored how publishers could do much more to drive growth too, to increase revenues and in particular profitability, by leveraging content in new ways.
 
Last year we brought all of this together, in a super-accelerated innovation process, in order to “reinvent the book”. This highlighted fundamental questions about what actually is a book – is it more than content? a platform? a brand? We took a 30000 word manuscript and said how can we engage audiences in a better way. Your ideas were diverse and inspiring – from sending “messages in a bottle”, to co-creating content on an ongoing basis to create a living story, a subscription model to monthly chapters, and with a brand that can stretch in new directions.
 
The ideas were radical, but that is what we want – to provoke ourselves into thinking and working in new and better ways. Of course, technologies keep evolving – this year has seen a rapid growth in augmented reality – how digital content, typically visual and interactive, continually offers new opportunities to innovate. The challenge of implementation is up to you – how will you embrace the new ideas, to reinvent and your business and our market?
 

This year we are taking another step forwards. We want to define the “smart book“. Forget the artificial division of print and digital, people consume knowledge across platforms, and therefore the best books embrace both worlds too. How can you bring together the best of physical (tangible, browsable, artistic, treasurable) and digital (instant, customisable, efficient, updatable), in order to create something more power … a book of the future … a smart book? We need a common understanding of what this means, the building blocks and how they combine.

In particular, we will focus on Education 4.0. How is the world of education changing? For children, students and throughout life? We will explore the big trends in more modular, collaborative and lifelong learning, and understand the new opportunities for content, and the role of the smart book in supporting this. I certainly know, through my own teen age children (who lie on their beds glued to their phones), that the nature of study, revision, testing and progress has fundamentally changed from the days of chalkboards and text books.

For the whole industry – publishers to printers, authors and readers, web builders and database managers, and many more  – we will explore the the new developments in digital and physical books, how they increasingly work together, the ways in which content can be used in multiple ways, the new technologies to enable this, and emerging business models to improve profitability and new opportunities for growth.

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