The 2019 Future Book Forum

by Nina Clapperton

This October I got the opportunity with two colleagues to attend the 2019 Future Book Forum, enabled by Canon, in Munich in Germany. The moment the opportunity came up, I knew I wanted to go – and it wasn’t just because it was a free trip.

The Future Book Forum is all about publishers and printers working together to explore new avenues to develop our industry. This year, the theme was communities. I wasn’t entirely sure what they meant by that at first. Was it going to be all about online forums and book clubs? Or fanfiction sites and Tumblr accounts? Or Facebook groups and Reddit threads? Well, I was sort of right. Communities can be anything that bonds people together. At the conference, an anthropologist explained that communities have been an integral part of human development. We’ve succeeded because of our communities. Now, so can publishers.

The amazing examples of esports and the cooking show America's Test Kitchen showed us the value of community. Through them, consumers can engage with their passions and connect with other people. If they succeed in meeting consumer needs, then they’ll grow. But the communities can’t be about a product. They have to start from a place of passion.

Instead of creating a community about your publishing company, make one about a topic you work with. Maybe it’s bees, or elevators (that actually exists, can you believe it?). Create a space where people can freely discuss their topic of choice and engage with their passions. That can be a Facebook group, fanfiction network, book club or online forum – anything that’ll allow for communication and connections! Offer them unique content that will have them returning to your community. Publish works that will interest them and share it with the community.

The publisher Springer Nature worked with Zapnito to develop a community where their academic experts could connect to their readers. Consumers on the community get access to additional resources and content, like their Behind the Piece section. In this series, authors of journal articles share their experience writing and researching for their work. They even accept posts from experts published in other journals. Readers gain new insights and there is an increased level of engagement.

Communities are a key way to engage with consumers in a world with billions of things vying for their attention at every moment. So we tried to develop some. The Forum broke attendees up into smaller groups to develop a community for a STEM, travel or business community. We worked together to find the target market, the unique selling points and the ways to monetize these communities. I was designated the keeper of ideas for my group and could barely write fast enough to keep up with the conversation. Everyone was engaged, trying to come up with a unique way to market a travel community.

Groups shared their proposals on stage, some earning gold star stickers from Mark Allin (an advisory board member at OICP). The winning proposals had clearly identified consumers, unique interaction options, clear subscription plans and well-developed understandings of their customer’s drives.

The future element of the Forum became very clear on the second day, when a number of businesses presented their technological developments to us. From automatic formatting software to AI that can predict bestsellers to books that speak, we got to see it all. And we got to sit down with the creators to explore ways to develop their products and ways their products can develop the industry.

Even with all this new technology, the Forum maintained one thing: print books are not on the way out. Many advancements are additions or enhancements to the print books we all know and love. They are ways to change our current experiences and draw in new readers. They are adapting to the current 8-minute attention span of the average person and the need to hook them away from other media. Much like communities, they’re an addition to what already exists.

According to the Future Book Forum, we’re still a relevant business (phew!). And I have to agree. While 15 minute distillations of books is great for your small spare moments, they can’t replace the larger tales we want to devour. This is why Blinkist finds people buying books more often after they have had a small snippet: they need more!

Consumer feedback is vital to the industry, yet so often left out. We often forget to check back in with readers once we’ve got the book in their hands. But with social media and the internet making it so easy to voice your opinions, publishers have to listen.

I came away from the conference hopeful (and with a earworm stuck in my head – Galvanize by The Chemical Brothers, the theme song of the conference). Not just because I (once again) realized I really love this industry. But because of where it’s going. Publishers are actively trying to learn more, to adapt – even if they don’t always do it well. Their attempts are allowing for innovation – like AI that can predict fiction bestsellers in Germany. It’s the reason esports was not only mentioned at the conference but highlighted for an hour.

People actively listened to my opinion, though they could have brushed me off as ‘just a student’. They wanted to hear the opinion of someone new to the scene. Listening to everyone and having meaningful discussions are vital for our industry to keep developing. The 2019 Future Book Forum is proof of the need to look forward in the industry. Communities, technology and publishers have to work together to create a solid foundation for our future. 

About the author of this article

When Nina is not attending publishing conferences, she studies on the MA Publishing Media; she also runs a travel blog that catalogues her adventures around the world. To read more by Nina, check out or follow her on @ninaclapperton on Instagram!

Edited by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 29 Nov 2019 around 12pm

Last edited: 03 12 2019