The first New Publishing event on the FutureBook programme offered insight into how different companies are trying new things with their core content, from Game of Thrones to Agatha Christie, and several stops in between.
“Content unbound and rebound.”
Emily Labram of HarperCollins kicks off the event with their recent Game of Thrones app; it was about “looking at the books, breaking them open, and rebinding them. Content unbound and rebound.” You must discover a need that your content best meets and design to meet that need.
“We can always do it better,” says Emily. They designed it for TV fans to jump back into the story, it’s available offline, you can filter by season and themes and – most importantly – you can toggle spoilers off. There’s also an invite for users to buy the books, bringing it back to the core product.
First, they had focus groups of TV and book fans, and they listened for problems that they could work on, with a main one being “the size of the books is off-putting.” They needed to find a better way to sample the books for the TV fans, and as they own the rights, they could offer free samples.
The app life cycle will be in tune with the show, adding more as Seasons 6, 7 and 8 progress. Every spring users will soar and they’ll get great data.
“Sound makes movies and games better.”
Cameron Drew sums BookTrack up simply: soundtracks for books, adding, “We’re an e-book retailer with a twist and I’m here to talk about the twist.”
They sync movie style soundtracks with e-books to match your reading pace and points in the plot. But why? “Our world has changed,” he says. We have evolved from the time valued the library and being at home to carrying it all in our back pocket. But let’s consider the elephant in the room: how do you compete for screen time? How does reading engage a new audience in this modern multimedia and sensory world that we live in? “Sound makes movies and games better.”
So why not books? That’s the logic, and it’s sound. There’s a 17% increase in comprehension with a soundtrack, and 30% raise in engagement. “Sound has the power to enhance reading experiences rather than distract from them. It’s important to allow people to experience something with just one click.” They currently have 2.6m readers, 10,000 creators, in over 30 languages in over 12,000 classrooms.
“We understand value of expert recommendations.”
LonelyPlanet‘s Tom Hall talks about the journey from the Blue List to the Best in Travel. The biggest media day of their year is when their Best in Travel annual guide is launched, where it puts both travel and the audience first – they are never book- magazine- or website-first. They had lists back before it was popular, a proto Buzzfeed of sorts, and they evolved into something very different, something very – obviously – not Buzzfeed.
“We understand the world’s value of topical and expert recommendations,” he says, on their quality. They create annual topical, shareable content that’s social media friendly. Best in Travel is the key cornerstone of everything they do, and has gone on to be the greatest symbol of what the brand do and stand for, and with a fuller way of reaching people and giving them insight into the best travel destinations and hidden gems around the world.
“Building a direct to consumer business is building a community.”
Next comes the world of personalisation. This Is Your Cookbook, says Mark Searle of Quarto, is the result of a lack of market for e-books from their titles, as customers want cookbooks in their physical form. So they thought they’d allow people to make their own. They had assumption on their audience, but they had to test this and focus groups.
An interesting note was that they assumed too much user intuition and found their website being updated to make it increasingly easy for the customer, but also without forcing commitment of inserting names on the home page and allowing them to simply browse. They had to resist the temptation to put all the bells and whistles on, keeping it clean and functional.
“It’s not an easy thing to build a direct-to-consumer business,” he notes. “There’s higher margins but it’s the unvarnished in-person feedback that’s valuable.” They have customers from 7 year old boys to 80 year old women. It’s a broad scope. They’ve had to shift from the publishing mindset more to the techy one. “Building a direct-to-consumer business is building a community.”
“It’s by thinking outside the book that we’ll be able to grow readership.”
Own It! is a storytelling lifestyle brand, says Crystal Mahey-Morgan, telling storyes over fashion and music. She left her job at Penguin Random House to go it alone as she “wanted to stop talking and start doing.” It was through a frustration at how slow everything moved.
On top of being a storyteller, she’s a retailer, building a direct relationship with those who buy into her brand. She plays #DontBeAlien, adding that the story was turned into a song, and the song was turned into a book – it’s a truly multimedia project, and a really interesting one to watch. “It’s by thinking outside the book that we’ll be able to grow readership.”
“She would be fascinated by the digitally connected world.”
We’ve been from multimedia storytelling to Westeros, but the session ends with Julia Wilde of Agatha Christie Ltd talking about bringing a classic into the 21st century. “At Agatha Christie, we look at other areas of her canon of work,” she begins, looking outside the likes of Poirot. “She was a pioneering inspirational woman.”
Agatha Christie was very private and modest, taking engagement with fans very seriously; Julia believes that “she would be fascinated by the digitally connected world”. The Mysterious Mr Quin is 12 short stories, which they have been working on bringing into the modern day with MrQuin.com. A theatre critic is now a vlogger, they’ve got big names like Gethin Anthony (Renly, Game of Thrones) and they’re making it interactive. It’s set up as a Facebook feed, and there’s options to watch the videos on your own or live with another group. There’s an offer of on-demand vs audience interaction. They’re preserving a classic but bringing her work into the modern day, constantly evolving.
Six very different companies and six different approaches to storytelling, reaching new people, bringing focus onto the book, and a very interesting insight!