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Conference Buzz: Record Attendance at O'Reilly's Tools of Change for Publishing

Conference Buzz: Record Attendance at O’Reilly’s Tools of Change for Publishing

Written for Unlimited Priorities and DCLnews Blog.

Tools of Change (TOC) for Publishing

Tools of ChangeAbout 1,400 attendees attended O’Reilly Media’s Tools of Change (TOC) for Publishing Conference in New York, February 14-16. From its inception five years ago, when attendance was 400, TOC has grown every year, and the 2011 conference was the largest ever. It’s easy to see why; TOC continues to focus on the rapid changes occurring in the publishing industry, attracts leading speakers, and provides a forum for vendors to exhibit their latest products. It has become one of the industry’s leading events.

Is the world ready for e-books?

Author and Wolfram Research co-founder Theodore Gray wondered if the world was finally ready for e-books. He noted that it is unsatisfying to him to need to resort to print to make any money on a book and predicted that in the future, simple static textbooks will be produced as open source projects because nobody will want to pay for them, either in print or electronic form. Users will, however, pay for enrichment and interactivity, and now that technology to add such capabilities to e-books is available, the world is ready for them.

The pace of change is accelerating.

David “Skip” Pritchard, President and CEO of Ingram Content Group, followed Gray’s theme and emphasized that we are in a time of rapid change in the publishing industry, and the pace of change is accelerating–a point made by several additional speakers as well. Pritchard urged attendees not to allow company history to get in the way of adapting their organizations to today’s environment. Change is not always obvious to us; skill sets and talent are often hidden in an organization. He also noted that everything will not change; authors will continue to have status, and curation will still be needed.

If all information is free, who will pay authors?

Margaret Atwood, author of numerous poems and books, struck a note for authors, asking if the future is on the Internet, and all information is free, who will pay authors? Have we stopped to think about whether today’s changes are really good or not? She advised the publishing industry to never forget its primary source. Authors are a primary source because everything in the industry depends on them. And in an age of “remote” and “virtual”, there is still a craving for “real” and “authentic”.

We must not speak of digital content as a secondary use.

Brian O’Leary, founder and principal of Magellan Media, gave an impressive talk on the damage that containers (i.e. books, magazines, and newspapers) used to transmit information have done to the present-day industry. Containers are an option, not a starting point. They limit how we think about our audiences and how they will find our content. Our world today is one of content and browsers, and a new breed of born-digital competitors is starting with context and thus meeting the challenge of being relevant to audiences who instinctively turn to digital content. We must not speak of digital content as a secondary use. Publishers are increasingly in the content solution business, where the future is in giving readers access to content-rich products. Starting with context requires publishers to make a fundamental change in their work-flow, and if they make the leap, remarkable opportunities are available.

Six trends currently affecting the publishing industry.

Kevin Kelly’s presentation opened the concluding day of the conference, and he noted that his latest book, What Technology Wants (Viking/Penguin, 2010), is the last printed book he will write. All his future works will be in digital form. Kelly, the former Executive Editor of Wired magazine, discussed six trends currently affecting the publishing industry:

  • Screening. We are moving from being people of the book to people of the screen, and we have not yet begun to see the extent that screens will permeate our culture. Every flat surface is a potential screen site.
  • Interacting. We interact with not only our fingertips, but also with gestures (as with smart phones, for example) and even our whole body. Reading will be affected by this trend and will expand to a bodily conversation and also to a nonlinear process; for example, we now have alternate endings for some books.
  • Sharing. Reading is becoming much more social. We read socially and must learn to write socially. Everything increases in value by being shared.
  • Accessing. We gain much more value by accessing information rather than owning it.
  • Flowing. Files flow into pages which flow into streams. Streams go everywhere, are never finished, and are constantly in flux. Books will operate in the same environment.
  • Generating (not copying). The Internet is the world’s largest copying machine, but future value will be in products which must be generated in context and cannot be copied. There is no better time for readers than now, but publishers are not ready for the idea that books will sell for 99 cents.

The largest platform in the world is the mobile handset.

Finally, mobile content were not forgotten at TOC. Cheryl Goodman, Director of Publisher Relations at Qualcomm, noted that the largest platform in the world is the mobile handset, but unfortunately most publishers have neither engaged this market nor changed their digital strategies to accommodate it. As a result, advertisers and marketers, not publishers, will determine the future course of the industry. This is an opportunity for publishers to function as a conduit to highly curated content.

There was an enormous lot to assimilate at TOC. Most of the speakers’ presentations, as well as the live streams of the keynote sessions are available on the TOC website, and further summaries appear on my blog. The dates and venue for TOC 2012 will be announced shortly.

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