Making the first move

It was after the FutureBook Innovation Workshop a few weeks ago that The Bookseller cornered me in the pub.

“You’re the girl that was rude about the book industry in New Media Age magazine,” they said. I took a slug of my drink and wondered if I should run away.

“That’s me,” I admitted. I checked the exit. It was clear.

There was a pause, a hard considered look, and then a smile.

“Would you like to write a blog for us?” The Bookseller said, and I laughed. You bet I would.

In this month’s Wired magazine, Alain De Botton writes, "the entrepreneur takes tremors of dissatisfaction and longing, and transforms them into commercial concerns." De Botton was writing about Apple (Evil Apple or Lovely Apple, depending on how you feel about Steve Job’s obvious control issues), but his principle about entrepreneurship can be applied to most things. In this instance, I think it’s pretty perfect when considering our beloved book industry.

As an author - but also as someone who has worked in digital for over ten years (national newspapers and retail primarily, in case you were wondering) - I’m fascinated by the changes happening in the book industry right now. I applaud Unbound for attempting to create a new publishing model, I get annoyed at Amanda Hocking for tapping into the Twilight generation with her self-published novels that have netted her a fortune, and I wonder if traditional book publishers really are as disposable as many (JK Rowling, I’m looking at you) make them out to be. But most of all, I sit at conferences and I wait to hear about the next big thing.

And I wait. And I wait some more.

The Waste Land app was launched very recently, and like everyone else I love it. I think it’s elegantly made – it is beautiful, tactile and comprehensive - but unlike Bryan Appleyard in last week’s Sunday Times. I don’t think it’s a ‘turning point for digital literature’. I think it’s just an app: a lovely app, absolutely, but just an app nonetheless.

What I’m waiting for – and you probably are too – is the game changer that comes from within the industry and not on the tide of Apple or Amazon. I’m waiting for that exquisite moment when suddenly someone comes up with something so mind-blowing that we know the shape of the industry has changed for good. There are murmurs of ideas, there are conversations from which innovation grows, but as the book industry comes to terms with the digital landscape, it feels like we’re on a teenage first date – desperate to make the first lusty move, but unable to because we don’t quite know what we’re doing, and we’re petrified of rejection.

Unlike newspapers (which will always have some sort of form, paper or otherwise, because there will always be news), or retailers (because apart from those in nudist colonies we all need clothes), books can be seen as expendable. We don’t need them to survive, to have a conversation, to learn. Yet alongside this dissatisfaction, there is also longing – we may not need books, but we want them. And if we want them we need to innovate so that the market of desire for books remains intact.

In my smarter moments I wonder why we haven’t yet come up with a solution, and I try to get my head around it. We seem to be bogged down in the detail; we’re so concerned about pricing models and digital rights that we’re not thinking big. We’re not thinking like entrepreneurs, like start-ups, and we’re not thinking that anything is possible. Most of all, we need to understand that the future of the industry will look nothing like it currently does. We shouldn’t let our tradition be what restrains us.

I don’t know what the future of publishing is, of course I don’t. I’m just an author. Yet what I do know is that to create innovation, we need to ignore everything we’ve done before, and we need to act entrepreneurially. We need to create the desire for books again in readers, and we need to create possibilities that seem mind-blowing now, yet will become standard in the future.

I’m interested in the amazing, and that’s what my blog on this site is going to explore. Say hullo. I’d love to know what you think.



books on Apple

Publishers should not rely too much on the IOS ecosystem, Apple has shown time and again that if they have the power the would weild it to get more money out of you.

Navigating this landscape

SophiavanBuren's picture

Great post Ilana, thank you.  I'm trying to find a good analogy for what it feels like as a new author to be navigating this publishing landscape.  "Post apocalyptic" sounds too, well, "cup-half-full," but you get the idea.  I'm hustling like I've never hustled before, and here I thought the hard part was going to be writing a book.  Leads and opportunities abound, but in this chaos, it's hard to know where to truly invest time and energy -- my blog? reaching out to local bookstores? shouting down the tunnel that is twitter? The list goes on.  I hope you are right and "the next big thing" comes along soon and starts to really connect the dots so all players get a better sense for the rules of the game.  In the meantime, I'm going to continue turning over rubble and rocks, looking for one reader for my book at a time.

The Next Big Thing


Great post Ilana. I'm in the middle of building our new startup, a multimedia platform for interactive reading for young people. Your excitement is tangible and I share it re. the next big thing. It would be fab if you had a read of my recent blog post: 'An Interactive Harry Potter Changes Everything'. It also addresses a recent comment made by a legacy publisher who was  quoted in The Guardian as saying 'Ebooks are only a format just as paperbacks were a new format in the 30s. The value and joy of reading lies within the book itself, not the wrapper it comes it'. Personally I believe this kind of comment is very blinkered. The new model is not about the wrapper at all but about the expectations, shifting habits and multimedia brains of the new person picking up that wrapper. Loads to talk about. Hope we can discuss more! Thanks for great posts. Here's mine:


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