Report from the UK’s FutureBook Conference: Bringing Great Writers into the Digital, Multimedia Mix19Share
By Sophie Rochester
LONDON: If there was a key lesson from the first FutureBook conference organized by The Bookseller magazine and held in London for the first time last year, it was “experiment, learn and adapt”. Back again for a second conference, held the past Tuesday, the UK publishing industry appears to be responding well to the challenges of digital publishing. We were sharply reminded by Rebecca Smart (Managing Director, Osprey Group) that “change is hard“, but the 2010 speakers, who this year came mostly from inside the publishing industry, demonstrated that publishers are able to evolve and adapt for digital in interesting and different ways.
The big question remains: “Where are the revenue streams for digital publishing?” And although much hope is pinned on the iPad (and other tablets), we still don’t know exactly how big this market will be. YouGov, an international internet-based market research firm, offered figures projecting that 12% of the UK population will soon own a tablet, demonstrating the huge potential market for publishers. But while experimenting with content on these devices is still key to learning what will and won’t work, the risk of these experiments not generating revenue makes this learning process difficult for many publishers.
So, for many delegates if there was one presentation that really stood out at FutureBook 2010 it was when Max Whitby, founder and CEO of Touch Press, spoke about The Elements iPad app. Not only was the project a unique idea (at the time) with an amusing story attached to it (after all -– publishers and booksellers like stories), he revealed Touch Press have so far sold over 150,000 units at $14 each -– with Touch Press receiving a 70% share of those sales. For the creators of The Elements this translates into nearly $1.5 million in revenue. Rarely do we get to hear about iPad app sales for book apps – publishers are apparently unable to share sales figures because of restrictions from Apple –- and these heartening figures had everyone sitting upright in their seats.
Henry Volans, Head of Digital at UK independent Faber & Faber, followed this news about The Elements iPad app, by revealing a forthcoming collaborative project the publisher is doing with Whitby and Touch Press called The Solar System for iPad. The Solar System app will be a complete guide to our solar system, using interactive software to include multi-touch screen functionality, rotating 3D images of the planets and custom-made animations and videos. The demo was incredible.
The beauty of this collaboration is that, on the one side, Faber brought to the table a great writer –- New Scientist cosmology consultant Marcus Chown –- and an established publishing brand, while Touch Press was able deliver the technology to create a mind-blowing app and access to an established international market seeded through the success of The Elements app. And if sales come anywhere near those of The Elements it stands to make some great profits for all parties involved.