Quantum 2016: Our Roundup of the day’s action

The Ribbonfish team was lucky enough to attend the Quantum Conference at 2016’s London Book Fair at Olympia, West London. The conference focused on technology and its role within the publishing industry, bringing together experts from a range of organisations across the world. Here’s our overview of the talks we saw this year.

The Machine Intelligence Revolution

First up, we had a talk by Nick Bostrom, a Swedish philosopher at the University of Oxford. He talked a bit about the future potential for artificial intelligence and superintelligence, outlining some rough timescales for when A.I. could achieve the heights seen in sci-fi films and books. Bostrom talked about how realistic predictions can be made, firstly by ensuring they adhere to the laws of physics.

The Curious Incident of the Book in the Digital Age

After a fine introduction by Bill Thompson, Gail Rebuck stepped up to deliver a passionate speech about the state of the modern publishing industry. Sweeping through some of the challenges that have faced publishing, Rebuck talked about how many perceptions of, and predictions for, the publishing industry were misguided; especially in predicting the demise of physical books. She spoke a bit about how publishers should explore the “alchemy” of working with developers, designers, and coders to create engaging and immersive experiences. Rebuck also said that “What matters is that readers are discovering and buying books, whatever the delivery.” You can follow Gail Rebuck on Twitter HERE.

Quanta: The Global Book Market

Most publishers and booksellers will be familiar with the work of Nielsen Book Data, and in this presentation Jo Henry sets out the state of the global book market in 2016, after compiling data from the last two years. In this presentation, she talks about how in 2015, there was a growth in physical book sales in some countries around Europe, but in others around the world there has been a slowdown due to the increasing popularity of digital in its earlier stages. You can watch a video of Jo HERE.

Non-fiction: Following the Money

This talk featured Roger Domingo, Elizabeth Baldwin, and Richard Sullivan and was chaired by the ever-eloquent Alison Jones. Panellists discussed some of the ways in which publishers can adapt to the changing consumer demands. Richard Sullivan emphasised that publishers must make the most of the ideas they have, ensuring they maximise reach and effectiveness by repurposing content and reaching different audiences within similar related communities. The panel talked about the importance of partnerships and innovative revenue sourcing, and how print and digital is just the beginning of the story.

Developing an App Publishing Strategy

This was a particularly fascinating chat between Adrian Driscoll and Laura Cremer, again chaired by Alison Jones. The focus was on apps and the process whereby they’re conceived and brought to market. Driscoll talked about how apps work best when they complement or fit existing publishing processes, and championed collaboration over specification during the project – bringing app development skills together with publishing knowhow and having very real and open conversations throughout. Cremer talked about how apps are the quickest way to immediately hop on a trend. She said that Octopus (part of Hachette) leverage existing brands to get guaranteed following and brand marketing support for apps, and also focus on trends where adding the interactivity of an app adds usefulness, such as with their focus on Yoga and Pilates.

Transforming your Marketing Organisation in the Digital Age: A Wiley Approach

Clay Stobaugh is the CMO at Wiley, one of the biggest academic publishers in the world. In his talk, he discussed the approach of his organisation to the changing landscape. He spoke in terms of mindsets, toolsets, and skillsets for publishers. The mindset is the requirement to know and understand customers, the toolset is what allows publishers to reach customers, and the skillset is what brings these practices to life. Stobaugh says that in order to maximise marketing effectiveness in the modern age, publishers must adopt this approach. It’s also about measuring activities and segmenting audiences, and only by doing this can publishers separate budget and time between the different elements of an omnichannel campaign.

Omnichannel Selling: The Consumer is increasingly in Charge

This this panel debate concentrated on the issue of omnichannel sales. The stage was filled by Matthew Walsh of IMRG, Kieron Smith of Blackwell’s, Matt Haslum of Faber & Faber, and was chaired by Ed Nawotka. Social media was discussed in the selling context, with most panellists agreeing that it is rarely a solid sales channel, with Walsh describing social more as a “shop window”, citing stats that only 0.3% of online sales are directly attributed to social. The tension between online sales and bookstore sales was still prevalent, with Smith contesting that online shopping can never have the same appeal in terms of customer experience.
We also saw an interesting talk between James Daunt, Managing Director of Waterstones, and Stephen Page of Faber & Faber, in which they discussed the landscape of physical book selling.
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