The Book is Dead Long Live the Book! Handle's Digital and Technology Division attends #FutureBook14

Posted on 18/11/2014 by Emma Dadswell


Director of Digital and Technology Recruitment, Tim Smith, had a hugely insightful day at the FutureBook conference on Friday Nov 14th at QEII Conference Centre.

Attendees were a mix of editors, marketers, publicists, techies, start up founders and they were just the people I met.

Some thoughtful points that came out of the day were that publishing is a thriving and alive business. Yes it’s facing its fair share of challenges in terms of business models, audience, engagement and distribution but what business isn’t? Digital channels provided the context of this conference but lots of subjects around that including hiring, data and rights management were discussed.

One quote that summed it up nicely was that “the publishing industry is changing but the power of the written word will always prevail”

George Berkowski who was the first to speak and hails from Hailo — so is more digital than most of the attendees — suggested that it’s all about capturing eyeballs. The proliferation of information makes it hard to take market share. Lots of other speakers emphasised this view. Multiple device use throughout the day means approach to engagement changes, as does the type of content viewed. When the staggering Candy Crush usage and sales stats were displayed the point was clear.

We might think of books as a legacy medium but in the talk by Sam Aspinall, CEO of Touchpress she referred to the desktop as the legacy medium! Not sure everyone in the audience was ready for that but it shows the variety of options consumers have.

One encouraging message from the host Nigel Roby at the intro, and remained a theme, was that publishing cannot evolve without suppliers — be that digital agency or technical platform provider. Whilst he was thanking his sponsors the message also rings true for recruitment suppliers. There was a dedicated session on new talent but most presentations stressed the need for a balanced work force to face the digital challenges.

Berkowski — “English majors in a room will not build a billion dollar app and software engineers will not write a bestseller. Creative and tech is a balance that is fundamental”

As a recruiter into tech, design and marketing for publishers this is an encouraging thread.

A further indication that people are key is that ideas and innovation will only come from the staff you hire. If you don’t think of it another company or team will. The digital native Berkowski (aka disruptive first speaker to stimulate debate) even went as far as to say if you do not cannibalise your business someone else will. Concerning but probably true.

That comment came to pass in a presentation by a start-up called Unbound that crowd fund investment or pledges to get a book published. A great concept that stands to boost author earnings significantly.

One section was dedicated to new hires: “New Voice: who should you hire and how will they change your company?” We heard from emerging talent and rising stars.

Most illuminating though was Marissa Hussey, Digital Marketing Director for Orion who outlined technical skills like SEO as key, her central tenet though was hire staff with curiosity!

Pay was mentioned and she illustrated a point that I am not sure many larger publishers are ready for which is that the programmers can be paid more than the editor.

Generally her presentation was excellent:

A much as the headcount composition and compensation was not concluded in the session nor was the primary objective of the team – in other sessions there was differing opinion on the role of content marketing as there was on the use of social media.

Another session that was noteworthy was the way tech has impacted publishing. The most interesting was the change of the mobile and telecoms sector by Alastair Nash. We heard how the mobile operator’s position has been comprehensively changed. Seeing this chronologically over a few slides was more sticking than I recall witnessing as a consumer or observer.

Data – be it through CRM or Nielsen sales or audience figures consistently emerged as a subject publishers need to continually manage. So again employing people that can capture, collate and interpret this are paramount.

The day ended with some big ideas — a collection of thoughts that may help the industry’s journey dealing with change and an award ceremony for innovation in digital. Congrats to the winners.

So, the summary is that publishing is an evocative industry and this will ensure it emerges strengthened from any challenge facing it. Having the right people employed seems an obvious solution but will no doubt remain a recurring factor in predicting the future of books. I am delighted to be operating in that space and I look forward to futurebook conference 2015 to learn more.

Tim Smith — Director of Digital and Technology — Handle Recruitment​