The UK’s FutureBook Live 2019: Maintaining ‘the Cultural Cachet of Books’

In News by Porter Anderson

With four program tracks, the upcoming 2019 FutureBook Live in London includes Barnes & Noble and Waterstones’ James Daunt among its keynote speakers.

At FutureBook Live 2018, Hachette’s David Shelley gives a keynote address. Image: Porter Anderson

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘This Extraordinarily Unstable Time’
This year bravely risking those Monday Mishaps we all enjoy, worldwide, the 1oth-anniversary FutureBook Live conference in London has moved from its traditional Friday placement on the calendar and is set for November 25, once more in the schmick surroundings of the Bishopsgate complex in Liverpool Street.

And although the Wagnerian crescendo of Frankfurt each year is thought by many to be the finale of the European and North American year’s big gatherings in publishing, The Bookseller’s FutureBook Live is actually the coda many in the UK business are looking for.

FutureBook Live is among the largest publishing conferences in terms of turnout. This year’s conference, a one-day outing, includes not only plenary sessions but four strands of focus.

This year, those strands, for the love of branding, are posted on the program with their respective color coding this way:

  • Hook the Readers sessions (purple)
  • Take Smarter Risks sessions (navy)
  • Seize the Agenda sessions (pink)
  • Hack the Process sessions (a kind of worried blue that’s not navy)

Like Dickens’ ghosts, these phrases can be expected to portend hashtags to come from the conference, too. For now, you can follow #FutureBook19 for messages in the run-up to the day, as well as watching @TheFutureBook, the handle for The Bookseller section in which Molly Flatt, its comment editor, directs the conversational traffic.

Molly Flatt

As Flatt announced earlier this autumn, you’ll find appropriate change afoot this year in the show. “As we approach our 10th anniversary,” she wrote, “you may have noticed that we’ve dropped both ‘digital’ and ‘innovation’ from our tagline and marketing. Why?

“Because in this extraordinarily unstable time, those terms no longer feel very useful. Everyone who works in publishing, whatever their seniority or specialism, must now understand digital; everyone, whether a conglomerate CTO or a self-published author, must innovate or die. And nor are digital solutions or splashy innovations always the best way to answer the challenges exploding around us.

“We have to use everything at our disposal, from woodblocks to Weibo, to restore books to a central place in our culture and to keep book businesses afloat.”

Philip Jones

And in the extensive preview prepared for the conference—you can access it without charge online hereBookseller editor Philip Jones writes, “The conference began as a digital event, morphed into one concentrated on innovation, and is now squarely focused on the business in its entirety, particularly, ahem, the future bit.”

He goes on, as Jones is still perhaps the best in the business at doing, at capturing exactly the challenge that world publishing faces today: “How we maintain the cultural cachet of books.” Exactly.

Happily for internationalists, in fact, the program is being devised to feature sessions on the international book economy, freedom to publish, how publishing “looks from the outside,” women’s leadership in the industry, and more.

Nevertheless, one of the pleasures of FutureBook Live still will be watching how the powerful, if Brexit-shaken UK industry interprets and addresses such issues. Those of us in the English-language markets know that translating each other is, actually, a thing.

The morning keynote quartet at the 2019 FutureBook Live conference features, from left, James Daunt, Katie Espiner, Akua Agyemfra, and Paul Abbassi

We’ll have more about the programming to come, and so will mention just keynotes, primarily, today, and look at the awards shortlists. In FutureBook tradition, there are many keys and many notes, four in the morning:

  • James Daunt, he of the crowded business card, will speak from his position as Waterstones’ managing director and, newly, Barnes & Noble’s CEO, as the “Hook the Readers” speaker
  • Katie Espiner, Orion’s managing director, is the “Hack the Process” speaker
  • Akua Agyemfra, founder and director of consultancy, is the “Seize the Agenda” speaker
  • Paul Abbassi, who you once knew as “Data Guy”—he now does his ebook sales estimates for commercial clients—is the “Take Smarter Risks” speaker
FutureBook Awards Shortlists

Seth Godin speaks vy video to the 2018 FutureBook Live conference. Image: Porter Anderson

As announced during Frankfurter Buchmesse, the FutureBook Awards shortlists for 2019 are these:

Podcast of the Year

  • The Waterstones Podcast (Waterstones)
  • The Comma Press Podcast (Comma Press)
  • Penguin Podcast (PRH Audio)
  • Backlisted (Unbound)
  • Simplify (Blinkist)
  • This is Spoke (Penguin Random House, Fremantle and BMG)
  • Sex Power Money with Sara Pascoe (Faber)

FutureBook of the Year

  • HAG, an audio-exclusive short story collection (Audible)
  • Madame Badobedah by Sophie Dahl (Bolinda)
  • Ladybird Audio Adventures (Penguin Random House)
  • Seven Days of Sound Meditation (HarperCollins)
  • Penguin Classics in Audio (Penguin Random House)
  • Today: A History of our World through 60 years of Conversations & Controversies (Octopus Publishing Group)
  • Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing (Bonnier Books UK)
  • ESC CardioMed (OUP)

Campaign of the Year

  • My Sister the Serial Killer (Atlantic)
  • Buy One Give One Away (Editora Belas Letras)
  • Tin Can Cook (Pan Macmillan)
  • Penguin Classics in Audio (PRH Audio)
  • Bookshop Day (Booksellers Association/Midas PR)
  • Lies Lies Lies (HQ)


  • Vika Books
  • MY VLF
  • ckbk
  • NoisyBook
  • Make Our Book
  • DeepZen

We’ll have more on the coming FutureBook Live programming.

More from Publishing Perspectives on the FutureBook and its conference is here. And more from us on the UK market is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.