Yesterday I had the pleasure to attend The Bookseller’s FutureBook Conference, where I signed in virtually to watch a variety of panels throughout the day. One that piqued my interest was the panel named ‘Putting on a show: how to find your audience’, where different people from all over the publishing and book industry came together to discuss hybrid events in a time after the pandemic. It included professionals like Natasha Carthew, founder of the Working-Class Writers Festival; Rachel Wood, founder of Rare Birds Books here in Edinburgh; co-founders of Inclusion Guide, Ever Dundas, and Julie Farrell; and Fiona Razvi, co-founder of the Wimbledon BookFest.
The event was chaired by Molly Flatt, who described the events to have come out of the various lockdowns to be ‘fresh and innovative’. While the pandemic was hard for everyone, it made the industry look at book events, launches, and festivals in a completely different light. In the past, most events were held in person, in small bookshops or event spaces that could maybe only hold twenty to thirty people. It was always a desire to record such events, but the expense usually proved too much for most people. Now, almost all events are, at least partially, held online to some capacity. The speakers on the panel all agreed that this isn’t something the industry can go back on. Hybrid events must be here to stay, for a variety of important reasons.
Firstly, having events online opens them up to a much wider audience; it allows them to be far more accessible. Natasha Carthew mentioned that she had previously held events in Bristol, which alienated many people who were unable to travel to the event. Having events be a hybrid between in-person and online allows for a greater number of people to attend and means that people can choose the most comfortable way for themselves to be present.
Both Ever Dundas and Julie Farrell agreed that online options allow for greater accessibility for those who are disabled or neurodivergent, and who previously wouldn’t have joined due to difficulties travelling or being uncomfortable in a large social setting. They went on to discuss the need for a change in the way in-person events are run so those who were not originally comfortable in these settings do not, once again, feel alienated by them. Creativity is needed in making events as enjoyable and accessible for those who wish to attend. Molly Flatt agreed with the suggestions that were made (mainly a space for a quiet nap if someone was to get overwhelmed), despite not being neurodivergent herself. This shows that expanding the content of events would be beneficial for everyone.
Overall, the takeaway from the panel, echoed by all on it, was that hybrid, in-person and online, events cannot be taken away. They need to stay and continue to develop, to further include those who wish to be a part of the book community in any way. Years ago, it wouldn’t have occurred to anyone to record an event, but it is now a staple so that events can reach as many people as possible.