Get inspired to be more innovative, with the FutureBook BookTech awards

Bec Evans - by Sarah Mason Photography

We’re told that publishing should be more innovative. We get it – innovation will help build a robust industry for the future. But where do we start as individuals who already have more than enough to do? We’re too busy commissioning, editing, designing, promoting and selling books to make time for breakthrough thinking.

The risk of burying our heads in the sand – or in the pages of a book – means we miss out on opportunities to keep pace with technology, develop our skills and create new ideas that will keep us feeling engaged in our work. It’s time to get out there and get inspired.

Step away from your desk

We’ve all heard the advice about stepping away from our screens to take walk in nature or go to an art gallery. So far, so vanilla. Jenn Maer, senior design director at innovation powerhouse IDEO, told me ‘look at some weird shit’.

The important thing is to break with your current habits and challenge yourself to a different view or point of view. Side step those recommendation algorithms and go rogue with your reading and listening.

If you need a spot of curation, go along to an event series. BookMachine is great place to start – check out all their listings here.

One of the industry events that consistently gets me thinking is The Bookseller’s Futurebook conference. Not only do I get to listen to new ideas and challenging perspectives from inside and outside publishing, it introduces me to new companies doing publishing differently.

Start-up inspiration

For the past five years Futurebook has run a pitch competition for publishing start-ups. Start-ups can often move faster than established companies, so checking out BookTech will give you a head start on trends.

I was a finalist in the very first pitch-off – sharing my idea for what would one day become Prolifiko. Since then, I’ve chaired the competition and I’m constantly inspired by the innovative use of technology to solve publishing problems and meet genuine user needs.

Often technology can wow us, but fail to have a practical application – there is nothing beyond the hype. Listening to what early-stage start-ups are doing can help to bridge the gap and stimulate ideas on how we can apply technology in our own areas.

Take virtual reality (VR). When I was working for a traditional publisher, the digital department bought an early VR headset and invited me to try it. I pulled it on and was transported from an open plan office to a space ship exploring the far reaches of the universe. I remember the queasy feeling of my stomach turning on a vertiginous moon walk. My first VR experience blew my mind, but when I took off the headset, I was still working in publishing and wondering how on earth I might get more people to read.

Applying tech to publishing

One of the 2019 BookTech finalists shows us how VR might work in publishing – MY VLF is a virtual literary festival, designed to connect authors and readers while overcoming barriers to participation – such as a lack of time, money or ability to travel. Then there’s augmented reality – another technology with huge potential for storytelling – used by Vika Books to inspire families to interact in British Sign Language and increase communication across the deaf and hearing communities.

The other start-ups marry technology with customer needs and market opportunities: DeepZen uses artificial intelligence to produce and co-publish audiobooks using proprietary emotive speech technology. The NoisyBook iOS app adds sound effects to children’s books, empowering young readers to enjoy reading and physical books. Make Our Book enables schools to publish their children’s work by harnessing the technological advances in self-publishing and bringing it to a new market. And ckbk solves a frustration for many home cooks by bringing the world’s cookbooks online.

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Many people worry about finding ideas, as if there is only one opportunity available to them, and their life is a quest to find it.

Relax and enjoy the process of seeking out inspiration. Go into the world and try different things, experiment, be curious and develop your interests. Something will spark your attention and give you the boost to be innovative.

The BookTech start-up competition is at 4 p.m. at the FutureBook conference on Monday 25th November 2019.

BookMachine will be live-tweeting the day and sharing a blog post soon afterwards. Follow all the action on Twitter at #FutureBook19.

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