[This article first appeared in the April 2011 edition of Bookseller + Publisher Magazine. © Alex Adsett, 2011]
The O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing conference was held in New York over 14 – 16th February, and was an exciting meeting of international publishing innovators to discuss where we are and where we’re heading. There was a diverse range of attendees; from publishers, booksellers, librarians, bloggers, successful businesses and start ups.
It is interesting seeing how prevalent the use of twitter at these conferences has become, with the stream of tweets running too fast to really keep an eye on as well as engage with the excellent talks. Each of the rooms had power adapters strung out below every row of chairs to accommodate the conference’s accumulation of laptops and mobile phones.
The speeches were varied with two of the best being author Margaret Atwood’s dry and witty talk on why we shouldn’t forget the writers at the heart of the publishing industry and James Bridle’s inspiring speech on the passion for the experience of reading, reminding us why we’re working in this industry in the first place.
Many listened avidly to tips on how to manage metadata, web only publishing workflows, and we heard again and again, that the book is now so much more than the container in which it comes. There were some familiar North American faces, such as Richard Nash (Cursor), Mark Coker (Smashwords) and Michael Tamblyn (Kobo) who had all made trips out to Australia in 2010.
Australia was represented by Queensland Writers’ Centre CEO Kate Eltham with her very well received Ignite talk on Four Things a Catastrophic Flood Taught Me About Social Media …(and One Thing It Taught me About Publishing) and Gus Balbontin from Lonely Planet spoke about the challenges ahead but with the ‘take home’ message that we all need to have a mission beyond revenue.
There were the buzzwords that seem to emerge from any conference such as Findability (or Discoverability), Convergence and Container. On these topics, a TOC favourite Brian O’Leary said, “When content scarcity was the norm, we could live in limited context. But now, in era of abundance editors have a new and different role: figuring out how what is published will be discovered.”
Accessibility would have been a buzz word, if it wasn’t such an important and timely topic. There were a number of talks on the value of improving the metadata in ebooks to open up new markets to print disabled readers. The point was convincingly made that it not only makes financial sense, but also legal and moral sense.
With topics such as, What Do eReading Customers Really, Really Want? An In-depth, Research, and Data-driven Exploration of Reading Behavior, Content Consumption, and Consumer Attitudes Toward eReaders and Multifunction Devices, there was no shortage of statistics floating around. It was quite shocking to hear that for all the time and expense that goes into developing Apps, even the best see a decline in sales after an average of 14 days. 8pm-12pm is ebook shopping primetime and not as many people are reading on smart phones as one would expect.
It is worth noting that many of the conversations taking place in Australia, for example territorial restrictions, threats to bricks and mortar bookstores and social media strategies, are the same ones taking place amongst our overseas colleagues, along with an increasing emphasis on getting the metadata right, and a concentration on the content rather than focusing on what it is being read on.
In a message for booksellers that we’ve been hearing for a while now, building a strong place within the community is the best route to survival, and for both publishers and booksellers, offering an authentic experience is seen as a valuable antidote to the gathering digital storm.
Increasingly, as more and more start-ups and developers and entrepreneurs took the stage, I got the impression that the digital future was already here. Any publishers or booksellers who are pretending it isn’t, or aren’t prepared to adapt, will be the ones who don’t survive. Happily the tools to deal with this are already at our disposal, and with conferences like O’Reilly Tools of Change, more ideas, development and collaboration will take place each year.