On Wednesday, June 1, the Readmagine annual publishing conference opened in Madrid. The event, which is organized by the Germán Sánchez Ruipérez Foundation (FGSR) and hosted by Casa de Lectores in Matadero Madrid—an old slaughterhouse turned cultural center—looks at innovation and trends in print and digital publishing.

The event opened with a pair of sessions focused on current global trends in reading and content consumption. Tom Morris, a senior trends spotter and U.K.-based firm GWI, reasserted that research proves that books are competing for attention with streaming media—but while books are losing ground, they are not defeated. “Thirty-eight percent of consumers are interested in books,” he said, a figure larger than gaming or even watching sports.

What’s more, 20 million people follow the #books hashtag on Reddit. Of course, Morris noted, this compares less favorably to the 190 million who follow the #books on TikTok. In addition, he pointed to the growing popularity of audiobooks as a harbinger of positive trends. This interest is especially strong among the youngest readers, where some 47% of pre-teens and those 8- to 15-years-old saying they prefer to listen to books rather than read them.

The real competitor for books is gaming—which isn’t just for younger people, but is a growing hobby among GenX and Baby Boomers as well. The challenge, he said, will be how the book business can work to transfer interest back to reading. One solution, he offered, was incorporating more video content, which drives engagement, and it’s not just on TikTok or Instagram. “Even 28% of users on LinkedIn are going there for video content,” he said.

Morris also advocated for incorporating more foreign content to reach wider audiences across the world, pointing to the global success of shows such as Netflix’s Squid Game from Korea and Casa de Papel from Spain. This global content metaverse will, in turn, inform the metaverse. “The metaverse doesn’t exist yet, but it is coming, and you have time to prepare for it,” he said. What exists at present, he added, is the “proto-metaverse,” which includes environments where individuals live a separate, digital life and includes platforms like Minecraft and Roblox, as well as old platforms like Second Life and newer spaces like Decentraland.

This do-it-yourself mentality already exists and is expressed through self-publishing, as well as online platforms like Wattpad. Roberta Franceschetti, founder of Mamamo.it—a site focused on digital media education—and Content Creators, an Italian content agency, spoke about the evolution of Wattpad and Webtoon. What she spotted that has previously gone unreported is that the main form of engagement is largely driven by a sense of community, especially in the comment threads. “People are reading novels on Wattpad together, and some are spending more time engaging with and reading the comments than the story itself,” she said. “Deep reading is lonely, and this makes it into a community experience.”

She also argued that publishers should find ways of incorporating more graphic material in their work, especially for younger readers. “We are seeing the evolution of hybrid languages, which combine words and emojis, which is one of the reasons, I think, that we are seeing the growing popularity of graphic novels and manga.” Using Webtoon as her primary example, Franceschetti said that the industry is likely to see more cross-platform collaboration, much of it driven by data analysis, and cited as an example the launch of Webtoon Unscrolled, which is taking popular Webtoon comics series being published as graphic novels.

This year’s agenda includes several sessions focused on the United Nation’s Sustainability Development Goals, which focus on advancing equitable society and reducing environmental impacts. Speakers included Anna Maria Soininvaara, director of Oodi Central Library in Helsinki, Finland, a futuristic library that opened in 2018. She spoke about the challenges Oodi faced in serving all Finns, including recent immigrants, noting, for example, that the introduction of a book club for people of color at the library was criticized by racists, which itself sparked a counter-reaction.

Soininvaara emphasized that being inclusive was a key priority, “Our mandate is to promote active citizenship, democracy and freedom of expression,” she said. Sometimes, responding to society’s needs demands fast action, she said—something the publishing industry isn’t always prepared to accommodate: “We need more Ukrainian children’s books now, not in half a year.”

Print-on-demand may offer a solution, something that Arantxa Mellado, founder and director of LiberExpress, a print-on-demand company founded in 2021 in Spain, discussed. Mellado addressed environmental impact of printing, and cited overprinting and bookstore returns as especially wasteful and inefficient. She advocated for print-on-demand and more direct-to-consumer drop-shipping as a solution to curtail further environmental degradation.