Future Book Manifesto … “To everyone who believes in the power of the written word … it’s time to take responsibility for the world we create”

July 22, 2022

I’ve been writing books for the last 18 years.

In that time nothing much has changed in the publishing industry. Indeed I remember back to 2002 when I first met Mark Allin, founder of Capstone, who had just founded his business. He was determined to break the mould, and in some ways he did – with early books like The Cluetrain Manifesto (with a funky FT imprint), and Exec Express (a series of over 50 rminibooks, which we curated for a corporate). But then he sold his baby to Wiley, and despite following to become global CEO, his ideas were gradually lost. Eventually he left Wiley, frustrated by their unwillingness to go beyond convention.

10 books later (writing about strategy, innovation, leadership and brands – ironically!), I am more frustrated than ever by book publishers. They seem to have regressed to ever more unimaginative standardisation and conventionalism – the 300 page hardback, in Times Roman font, stripped of any visuality, let alone innovation. Anything to reduce costs, and it seems, put off the reader. Manuscript to market still takes 9-12 months, typically with outsourced editing and typesetting of a poor standard, lacking any ownership or added value. Books are printed, often mass printed in Asia, shipped to Europe, stockpiled in remote warehouses, then shipped back again on demand. Usually too late due to antiquated sales and delivery processes. And often delivered incorrectly.

8 years ago, I teamed up with Joerg Engelstadter, a Canon print executive, who shared a passion to make books better. We created the “Future Book Forum“, and we’ve held it every year in Munich since, attracting around 2000 publishers every year, each year focusing on how to reimagine and reinvent aspects of the book process. It’s generated thousands of ideas, with lots of inspiration, but no real industry-changing action. Until now.

At the FBF22, we focused on sustainable innovation, and also brought together many of the industry groups, from the IPA and EPA to the UN Publishing Compact, and founded the “Publishing 2030 Accelerator” an initiative to catalyse and facilitate cross-industry change. The accelerator is coordinated by Rachel Martin from Elsevier, but with a broad team of industry experts and stakeholders – including Richard Charkin, Michiel Kolman, Jesús Badenes, Dalia Ibrahim, Peter Kraus vom Cleff, Karina Pansa and myself.

In particular it seeks to practically address some of the big problems – unsustainable manufacturing to over-produced waste, inefficient selling to technological aversion. And also to promote the positive opportunities – the power of the book, the written word, to inspire, and educate, and enable.

Future Book Manifesto

As a starting point, we got together to write a manifesto for change. A manifesto that everyone in the industry will hopefully align with, and engage in as a platform for action:

To everyone who believes in the power of the written word,

We believe it is the role of the publishing ecosystem to put sustainability at the heart of our business and operations to ensure that the book, in all of its forms, continues to drive progress towards a sustainable future for both people and planet.

  • It is time to take responsibility for the world we create. The book has the power to educate, entertain, promote culture, and stimulate diversity and democracy. We must work to reduce any negative impacts specifically, with regard to the resources, energy, transportation and waste associated with the production and distribution of books.
  • We can be drivers of change, putting a sustainability-led purpose at the heart of our organizations and the “smart” innovations we develop for the future. Let us join forces to empower the wider sector to act and challenge the established thinking and processes that often impede progress. Our passion is to transform ideas into reality, to help both our own organizations, and the wider sector, achieve the success which can make a positive impact for people and the planet.
  • We shall accelerate action, the time to talk is over. The technology needed to address sustainability is already within our reach. Forget about perfect. The United Nations has called for action on sustainability and a need for an avalanche of action. Let’s build a community of like-minded people to test our powerful ideas and assumptions. We will transform what we consider is “standard” in our industry.
  • Let us move forward together, becoming members of the accelerator we recognize we must use our knowledge, passion, and resources to leave no one behind in our sector on our shared mission. We love experimenting and are willing to try new things. We will deliver simple solutions and inspiration that will leave our planet and society in good hands for the future generations.

We who have signed this letter will hold each other accountable for putting these ideas into practice. The stakes are high, the future depends on our connections and the things we create together.

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