Future Book Forum 2019

November 20, 2019 at Canon Europe, Munich, Germany

This year’s Future Book Forum is all about “Growing with communities“.

Communities are the most powerful way in which book publishers can drive new growth, both through selling more books to more people more often, but also by generating new types of revenue streams.

Think about some of the great examples of brand communities through which people engage with brands and businesses today, influencing what they buy, who they trust, and how they achieve more. From Lego Ideas to TED Talks, Xbox Ambassadors to Nike’s Run Club, Disney’s D23 Fans to Bayern Munich’s supporter’s club. Here are some of the most famous:

  • Harley Owners Group – recognised that owners loved much more than the bike, it was the freedom to ride the roads, the thrill to ride together, to hang out at Ace Cafes, to share their passion for life.
  • Glossier – became the world’s fastest growing beauty business, emerging out of a Vogue editor’s blog followers, to become a community where consumers share ideas and advice, but also co-create their products.
  • Rapha Cycle Club – a store for premium apparel became a hub for people who love cycling, a place to indulge in experiences, a service point to fix your bike, an online platform, a starting point for rides, all around the world.
  • Behance – Adobe’s platform for showcasing and discovering great creative work, a platform of over 10 million users, including exclusive tools and project collaboration spaces.
  • Spotify Rockstars – bringing together people who love music, encouraging discussion and recommendations, rewarding and ranking the most active, and also a platform for discovering new talent.

A brand community is a group of consumers who invest in a brand beyond what is being sold. From meaningful consumer retention to new sources of revenue, unfiltered consumer insight and predictable cashflows, branded communities offer many opportunities to drive growth:

  • Enhance consumer experiences – how people achieve more, collaborate and recommend, and create new content together.
  • Ongoing engagement – how people engage with brands continuously, not just at moments of promotion or purchase.
  • Know consumers better – 67% of businesses use communities to gain deeper insights to drive better focus and innovation.
  • Increase brand exposure and credibility, making it easier to sell without selling – typically 35% increase in brand awareness.
  • Reduce consumer support costs – 49% of businesses with online communities report cost savings of around 25% annually.
  • Improve retention and advocacy –  improving retention by 42%, tripling cross-selling, and people pay more too.

Over the last 5 years of the Future Book Forum we have come on an incredible journey together –  exploring how to reinvent books, publishing and printing, in a world that is changing incredibly fast. Exploring the changing technologies – from data to content, machines to channels – but even more importantly, the changing markets – from consumers and behaviours, to influencers and value perceptions.

Some of my favourite moments from recent forums have included the:

  • Business case for change – rethinking the business models for publishing, from books to customisation, events to crowdfunding, modular and premium editions, freemium to subscription revenue streams.
  • Changing DNA of books – for some of us content is still king, including the author and imprint, title and words – for others the consumer is the new king, including data and collaboration, relationships and applications.
  • Innovation in book formats – increasingly a book is not just 300 pages of print, but a more holistic experience that combines physical and digital formats, ongoing delivery to support consumers in different ways over time.
  • Potential of consumer data – from retail data to personal insights, utilising all forms of intelligence to be more personal, predictive and profitable in the way we develop content, target audiences, and engage consumers.

We realised that we cannot continue as we are, that there were far more creative and profitable ways to grow. We realised that digital was much more than ebook formats, better printing and social media. We realised that similar industries like music and entertainment offer fabulous places to learn. We realised that we have some phenomenal assets that we could use in new and smarter ways. We realise that value is less in the book, and more in access to and application of ideas. And we realised that together, we could create new industry-wide approaches.

Growing with communities” is the next step on our journey.

The genius of branded communities – when done well – is that they create a participatory experience for the consumer, to do more of what they love. Instead of projecting a need for the product onto the consumer and perpetuating the ‘us-them’ relationship, communities dissolve the boundaries, forming a ‘we’ experience, between consumers, authors and publishers.

In the world of books, communities are much more than those old book clubs, or a social media presence. They are rich engaging and participatory experiences that change the way people see books, and how they do more. Examples range from Bookabees to Bookstr, GoodReads and LibraryThing, InstaNovels and Hooked, O’Reilly to Springer Nature, Reposed and Unbound.

Building a great brand community has three foundations:

  • Consumer, starting with your target audience, with a captivating reason for members to join the “tribe”, be it a shared cause or interest, from hiphop music, to a love of science fiction novels, or a desire to get fit.
  • Collaboration, engaging with other people, facilitated by the brand and its community “platform”, which might take the form of discussions, recommendations, co-creation of products, or collaborative use in doing what they do.
  • Content, the glue that makes the community work beyond products. This might take the form of more books, newsletters, events, videos, other products and services, merchandise, exclusive offers, and much more.

Underpinning this is a business model that ensures that the community adds real value to its members, but also commercially works for the business. For community members, this means it adds value beyond the brand’s conventional products and services, typically enabling them to use them better, and get more from them. For business, this means having a business model that drives incremental revenue growth. This might be in the form of consumer retention, selling more or different products, but also other types of content, and potentially a subscription to belong.

This year’s forum includes a fabulous program of inspiring examples and practical applications – helping all of us, as publishers and printers, creators and distributors – to step up to the opportunity. From America’s Test Kitchen, which starts with a love of cooking, to Moviestar Riders, sharing a passion for gaming – we have the stimulus and also the power of ourselves as the Future Book Forum community to find new growth, and create a better future for books.

Here’s what happened last year, at FBF18:

FBF19 agenda

Here is our agenda for this year’s Future Book Forum, on 20-21 November 2019, hosted by Canon at their fabulous Customer Experience Center, in Poing near Munich:

0900 – 0910 : Welcome, by Canon

0910 – 0920 : Growing with communities, by Peter Fisk

0920 – 0940 : Why publishing still matters, by Mark Allin

0940 – 1020 : The anthropology of communities, by Veronica Reyero Meal

1020 – 1100 : Break

1100 – 1145 : Moviestar Riders, esports community, by Fernando Piquer

1145 – 1215 : Springer Nature and Zapnito, by Ben Johnson and Charles Thide

1215 – 1245 : What’s new and different, panel discussion

1245 – 1415 : Lunch

1415 – 1500 : Growth accelerator, how to design communities in publishing, group work

1500 – 1545 : Growth accelerator, the best concepts for communities, discussion

1545 – 1625 : Break

1625 – 1645 : Books that build better communities, by Leanne McNulty

1645 – 1715 : America’s Test Kitchen, cooking community, by Sara Domville

1715 – 1745 : The best ideas for growth, panel discussion

Book-driven communities

Here are inspiring examples of online brand communities that have become thriving interactive environments in the digital world:

Bookabees is a subscription-based community for children and parents to explore the magic of books, sending you a monthly box of books and other activities.

Booklikes creates your own digital library for books, and a forum to share your blogs, with reviews and recommendations, bringing together authors and readers, with special offers and events.

Bookstr is a non-profit platform, previously The Reading Room, which allows readers to discover, recommend, and purchase books with 50% of profits dedicated to helping spread literacy in underdeveloped countries around the world.

Goodreads is the world’s largest platform for readers and book recommendations, now owned by Amazon. Find new books, recommend books, track your reading, join book clubs, win advanced copies, and much more.


Hooked describes itself as the future of storytelling. It is a a celebrity-backed startup that produces serialised “chat-fiction” for smartphones, and creating long-form stories that evolve in realtime on Snapchat.

InstaNovels emerged as a collaboration between The New York Public Library and ad agency Mother, a reimagining of Instagram Stories to provide a new platform for the world’s most iconic novels.


LibraryThing is platform of 2.5 million book readers categorised by the types of books they love, and linking people by the specific books which they read, review and recommend.


O’Reilly online learning is on a mission is to change the world by sharing the knowledge of innovators. Education comes in many forms from books to videos, tutorials and collaborative projects, and much more

Reposed started out as a community of women who love reading and a glass of wine, Reading in Heels, It is now much more, with “everything for a relaxing evening in – gourmet chocolate, relaxing teas, luxury beauty products and elegant stationery”

Unbound is the world’s leading crowdfunding publisher, building a community of book readers who want to be a more active part in a book’s journey from inception to activation.


Interview Q&A by Canon with Peter Fisk

“Communities: enabling publishers to go beyond the book”

1. How can today’s publishers engage consumers beyond a book sale?

Consumers are the main drivers in the publishing industry today. Enabled by social platforms, and a distrust in traditional media, consumers have become powerful influences of each, and continuously changing how content is created and consumed. This is a positive opportunity for print and publishing as print is taking on a new, premium role within the customer journey.

Publishers can use print to connect with their consumers on a more valuable and individual level with personalised content, enabled by technologies such as digital print on-demand. The secret is to understand them better. Get to know their interests and passions. Find out how they will use the content. Once this is achieved, then brands can provide tailored content.

Take the example of a home cooking enthusiast who buys a cookbook. The publisher could invite them to an event with their favourite chef, or include a QR code within the book linking to a YouTube channel with exclusive recipe demos. They could even encourage consumers to share their own tips and recipes with one another. It’s about having a two-way ongoing dialogue across diverse communications channels, including both print and digital.

Such interactions are the building blocks of communities, bringing together consumers in an enduring way in which they share their passions and preferences. Communities fundamentally change the way publishers engage with their markets, a shift from selling to enabling, from transactions to relationships, from supply to support, from publisher to facilitator.

2. So what do publishers need to do to learn about their customers’ wider interests?

Publishers need to go where their consumers are – within these communities – and actively become a part of them. You can see examples in many other industries. For example, Lego Club enables children to share their creations with others kids across the world for inspiration, engaging them much more deeply in the brand’s world. Communities engage people beyond the sale of a product, opening up a wider conversation.

And it isn’t always about creating new communities. Some of the best ones already exist – people already do what they love doing. However publishers have the opportunity to add more value in new ways, be it through books that allow people to indulge and share their passions, or in content and services that go beyond what we currently think of as a book.

A great example is cycling brand Rapha, which started in London and now has ‘Cycle Clubs’ around the world where cyclists can meet, have a coffee and go on bike rides. Of course they can buy clothing, get their bikes serviced and more, but consumers don’t just come to the club to buy products. They come to share their passion with like-minded people and for the experience that the community has co-created. This is where the brand adds value.

And there are more examples too: Harley Davidson’s owners group; GoPro’s action photography and sports community; LinkedIn’s business platform; and Glossier, the world’s fastest growing beauty brand, which was established through an online community.

The opportunity for growth is huge and that’s why we have chosen “Growing with Communities” as the theme of Canon’s Future Book Forum which I will again be hosting this year in Munich.

Publishers’ business models need to evolve. They need to be open to the challenges and opportunities of fundamental change. Large companies find such change the hardest, having grown familiar with their old models that made them successful in the past. Small to medium-sized companies have the agility and flexibility to change their business model, but a large organisation with a legacy in the industry may be reluctant to make the switch. The positive is that larger businesses have the scale, the people, the customer database, the IT and the money to try new ways of engaging with customers. And it doesn’t have to be instant. Publishers can implement small, incremental changes while continuing old ways of working.

3. To what extent do you think the publishing industry is already beginning to use consumer insight to drive business growth?

Last year at Future Book Forum, we discussed data’s potential to transform the publishing world – and how it can enable publishers to be more predictive, more personalised, and more profitable.

Many publishers now see data as their most valuable asset and the key to how they can sell, innovate and grow. But despite publishers having access to industry data, retail data and the data they capture directly, they still aren’t collecting all available customer insight. And even if they do, they aren’t using it cleverly to add value to consumers or drive business growth.

By collaborating with consumers, other brands and even competitors, publishers can use data to its full potential, connecting them with their customers and driving innovation. Insight can be used to understand customers better and even to predict their future behaviours and buying patterns using tools like Artificial Intelligence (AI).

4. So how can publishers use communities to grow their businesses?

At its simplest level, an ongoing relationship with a consumer helps brands to understand them better, which allows the develop of new products and services, and also cross-selling of other content that engages the consumer. An educational textbook might be complemented by a practical workbook or online videos for example.

Communities have challenged the traditional ‘book’ and changed our way of thinking around how we consume content. For example, Hooked is a chat fiction app where users co-create stories via a series of posts or text messages – the key part being that the consumer decides what is included in the story.

Alternatively, communities allow for new business models that challenge the traditional publishing model. Take America’s Test Kitchen. It offers a paid subscription service that enables home cooks to access a host of resources online, including recipes, reviews and top tips, as well as printed books and magazines. By integrating its offering, the company generates more than just sales. It’s able to build a community – a platform where people co-create content about their common passion – cooking.

Publishers should no longer just put a price on the product, but on access to a community in which the printed book is just one part of a richer, extended experience.

5. What is your message to Future Book Forum delegates this year?

I would recommend that publishers take a step back and look at the bigger picture.  The growth opportunity is no longer in selling a book but in rethinking how to maximise customer engagement by appealing to their passions.

New content formats are emerging that make publishing more valuable. New business models and revenue streams now exist. And most importantly, audiences play an increasingly crucial role in the creative process and they are influenced by what other consumers value. Publishers need to be ready for this change and how it will impact their business.

We see from other industries the power of communities. Brands needs to step into the consumer’s shoes and understand how to do more for them, and enable them to achieve more. Brand affinity and new revenues will follow.

The biggest opportunity for publishers to grow is through communities, engaging people in what they love and enabling them to get more value out of their relationship with a brand.

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