In his opening keynote at the London Book Fair’s pre-conference, Quantum event, Tom Goodwin, head of innovation for Zenith Media, spoke about publishing in what he dubbed “the mid-digital age,” the current "interim" period “before things get amazing,” when our technology is still too complex—and often disappointing.
“We live in this amazing age where incredible things are possible, but routinely people are quite disappointed,” Goodwin said. “It seems that what is possible accelerates very quickly,” he explained, “but what people expect from technology accelerates even faster.”
In his 30-minute talk, Goodwin spoke of a world—and a publishing industry—slogging through a frustrating, yet exciting time, sandwiched between the pre-digital age and the futuristic “post-digital age,” where "everything will just work" and technology will hum in the background, without the complexity of today, whether that’s rights issues, or passwords.
“The world at the moment is struggling to adapt to the Internet and what it means,” he said, contending that for all the talk of technology today, we don’t spend enough time thinking about the impact of technology on society and our lives.
“It always appears that when new technology arrives, we think about how we've done things before and sprinkle a little bit of technology around the edges of what we’ve done before,” he said, rather than engage with how that technology might fundamentally change the way we live.
For example, “people do not do mobile banking, they do banking in the modern age," Goodwin said. "People don’t stream music online, they listen to music; They don’t do dating online, they’re just dating in 2018. And it’s this way of thinking we have to get much better at.”
At the same time, Goodwin acknowledged that people are indeed feeling exhausted from the march of technology in their lives, and suggested the return to print books and the experience of reading in recent years was a real reaction. “I think the continued popularity of books and the continued success of physical books in particular is a very strong counter-trend,” he said. “I think there could well be a reaction against the amount of time we spend on screens.”
Goodwin also acknowledged the “democratization” of creativity in the digital age and the deluge of content it has spawned. “Abundance requires curation,” he noted, stressing the value of publishers in connecting people to good stories.
“I think more than anything else, you probably need to be slightly more ambitious as an industry,” Goodwin told publishers. "As an industry, and as a planet, we need to get much better and looking ahead, not behind.”
Goodwin's talk kicked off the ninth edition of the London Book Fair's pre-conference event. In a short Q&A following Goodwin's talk, Hachette U.K. CEO David Shelley told BookBrunch managing director Jo Henry that he believed that the surge in audio was "not a blip" and that "there's a very real possibility that audio could be one of the biggest parts of our business."
Shelley also said he had reason to be "optimistic about people's relationship with paper" and like Goodwin, noted a level of "digital fatigue" among some people. He said the evidence also suggests that younger readers seem to prefer print.
"I think it is really interesting that generation is gravitating back towards paper, in a retro, nostalgic, merch sort of way."
The London Book Fair officially begins on Tuesday, April 10.