Publishing Innovation from the UK’s Futurebook Conference

In Digital by Roger Tagholm

Mr. Quin, a new app, features one of Agatha Christie's iconic characters.

Mr. Quin, a new app, features one of Agatha Christie’s iconic characters.

The UK’s Futurebook conference showcased numerous new digital publishing initiatives, including a OwnIt! and a new app featuring Agatha Christie’s iconic characters.

By Roger Tagholm

One of the most exciting parts of last Friday’s Futurebook conference was hearing about new initiatives and ideas made possible by mobile and digital and new technology. Thus it is fabulous that one of the grand dames of the analogue world – Agatha Christie – is now cutting it with the Silicon Valley folk, thanks to an innovative partnership between the Agatha Christie estate and app development company TELL Player.

As the estate’s Julia Wilde explained: “The app updates one of her Mysterious Mr Quin stories and tells the story through the characters’ social media walls and feeds. We also have real-time ‘live’ events in which people can log into the story and comments on it as it happens.”

Such innovations are creating new opportunities for writers too. Taking Christie’s original characters as a base, Agatha Christie Ltd is using two writers to provide new material, to write the characters’ social media feeds. Something similar is happening at J.K. Rowling’s online platform Pottermore.

Pottermore CEO Susan Jerevics  noted that it couldn’t rely on JK Rowling “for every piece of content on our expanded site, so we have hired a team of writers – our Pottermore correspondents.”

The writers on these two sites are a new breed, effectively professional writers of fanfiction since, in contrast to the Wattpad uploaders, they are being paid to provide content based on previously created characters.

Crystal Mahey-Morgan and partner 'Cuba'

Crystal Mahey-Morgan and partner ‘Cuba’ (right)

Fresh Faces

Other new companies showcased included New Zealand’s Booktrack, which makes soundtracks for ebooks “so that when you are reading about a river or a jungle you will hear the water or the birds, or music appropriate to the scene,” said its Publishing VP, Cameron Drew (late of Kobo), and Quarto’s This is Your Cookbook initiative that uses PoD technology to offer short-run print-runs to customers who want to include their own recipes in a personalized cookbook for friends and family.

The conference also saw one of the first presentations by Own It!, a “storytelling lifestyle brand,” founded by Crystal Mahey-Morgan, late of Penguin Random House, whose voice on diversity issues has always been strong. Its debut ebook and music single can be seen below, with music by Mahey-Morgan’s partner, ‘Cuba’:

Perhaps the day’s most entertaining speaker was Kobo’s newly-installed CEO Michael Tamblyn who had some fun with a trend everyone has noticed. “I think next year this conference will be called ‘FutureAdultColoringBook,” he observed, to much laughter.

About the Author

Roger Tagholm


Roger Tagholm is based in London and has been writing about the book industry for more than 20 years. He is the former Deputy Editor of Publishing News and the author of Walking Literary London (New Holland) and Poems NOT on the Underground (Windrush Press).