The voices of volunteers at FutureBook 2016
by Nicola Timbrell, MA Publishing Subject Coordinator and 3 MA Students
This year eight MA Digital Publishing and Publishing Media students from Oxford Brookes University volunteered to help out behind the scenes at the renowned digital publishing conference, FutureBook 2016. They reported that it ‘was amazing’, and that ‘all of us shone individually and collectively’. Of course there was time to network with attending publishing professionals, listen to speakers, and learn a great deal about what is going on in the digital publishing industry.
While all were brimming with excitement and news, three students wrote up their experience of the day. I hope you enjoy reading their accounts, below.
Volunteering for the FutureBook 2016 conference on December 2, Friday, was incredibly rewarding and tiring. I worked closely with The Bookseller’s online editor Sarah Shaffi to produce on-the-day Twitter cards and to edit an audio piece for the website’s live stream blog. I was lucky (and nervous!) to have an exclusive interview with Dominic Gribben, senior editor of digital and audio at Hodder & Stoughton; and Jo Surman, the digital business director at HarperCollins, who talked about how the audio landscape will change in the next five to 10 years. Both touched on how the market will continue to increase, and people will most likely have access to shorter, fragmented versions of the audio book.
It was also interesting to sit down and listen to talks about how virtual reality is becoming a trend in storytelling. VR experts like Kate Pullinger, Guy Gadney, Catherine Allen, and Bobby Thandi all talked about knowing your demographic in terms of creating a VR product—but also learning that one shouldn’t create a digital product based on market alone. ‘Look at your audiences, because they’re broader than you think. Who are you really telling your story to? It doesn’t always have to be an age group, so don’t build a product just around them’, Gadney said.
And while the theme of the day was the future of digital publishing, the day ended with author Andrew Keen saying that it’s never been more important to be working with books—that the digital age has actually added value to publishing. He said, ‘My advice to you would be to be unbookish and to show off. Stress the fact that your industry is still creating works of value in a post-truth age, in an age where the most popular networks are those which destroy photographs after a few seconds, in an age of the 140-character tweet, of the Facebook update, in the fake news of the post-truth age.’
For the live blog during visit #FutureBook16
The five best things about volunteering to help at FutureBook 2016
The five best things about FutureBook 2016:
- Mushroom and cheese swirls
- Meeting (with her by-now celebrity status) Alison Baverstock
- Andrew Keen’s verging-on-dystopian-but-strangely-uplifting talk about the future of book publishing
- A children’s book app which, through voice recognition, adds music and sound effects to the story as parents read it aloud
- The large table of wine that appeared at the end
The minute Andrew Keen started talking I abandoned my time card duties (which is just as well because I’m pretty sure he went over and I wasn’t about to be the person to tell him this) and was pretty gripped- not just because of his dulcet tones. His speech was within the context of the nightmare that has been 2016, with the disastrous politics, free availability of information in a post-truth era, echo-chambers and the ‘failed’ digital revolution. He recommended publishers should ‘sex up’ the industry by embracing the selectivity (and relative reliability) of books, marry print and digital because print is not going anywhere and reminded us we’re all very lucky this worked out so well for us.
Another highlight was the BookTech showcase where five start-ups competed in front of a panel of judges (including Rebecca Smart!) to win the BookTech Company of the Year Award. My favourite was Novel Effect’s voice recognition app which adds theme music and sound effects to children’s print books when you read them aloud. At first glance it seemed like a well-made, if a bit gimmicky, app to mix digital with a genre so in favour of the tactile act of reading. One of the judges sceptically pointed out that his children were already engrossed in his ‘voices’ and their imaginations filled the blanks. But the reply he received was ‘you’re very lucky’. Matt Hammersley, the CEO, went on to explain the value of engaging children whose imagination tends to wander elsewhere and of helping parents who may not be natural storytellers. He also mentioned the work they’d done with autistic children and in schools, and finally the fact that the children can record their own sound effects and music.
Volunteering as a Video Production Assistant at FutureBook 2016
My task was to produce a one-minute long video of the FutureBook 2016 BookTech Showcase, a Dragons Den style pitch event in which five publishing related tech start-up companies pitch their ideas to a panel of three judges.
Upon arrival I was quickly introduced to the people that I would be working with, which included many of the members of The Bookseller Press team, as well as fellow volunteers. The atmosphere was hectic, yet friendly and good natured. I still had time to burn before the pitch began so I familiarized myself with the equipment I would be using, as well as taking advantage of the free coffee. Not long after, the morning’s talks ended and lunch was brought out. I would say to anyone thinking of volunteering in the future, do it just for the food.
After lunch I prepared my things, sorted out the editing software, set the white balance on the camera, and made sure there was enough battery. As three o’clock came round I went into Broadgate 1, the room in which the pitch was to be held, and set up. After that it was a matter of shooting the pitches themselves, and then collecting pick-up shots of crowd reaction and close-ups of an attentive audience. Once the pitch was over I went back to the press table and transferred the footage over ready for editing. I then edited until about six o’clock, at which point the wine and beer appeared, and all thoughts of editing were banished.
Overall I had a good time. It was nice to meet so many people that do a varied range of jobs in the publishing industry, and witness some incredible tech that is going to be with us in the not-so-distant future. I found everyone to be very kind and helpful, and although I was lucky to get such as fun assignment I think that there is not much in the way of volunteering opportunities that you would not enjoy.
And finally, here is the video I produced.
About the author of this article
Alessandra Pineda, Katy Underhill and Darren Sherry are all postgraduate publishing students in the Oxford International Centre for Publshing Studies.
Last edited: 19 01 2017