Atmospherics and Walking the Floor at Tools of Change: Notes on the 6th Annual Tools of Change Conference (part 2 of 2)
Note: In Part 1 I presented an overview of the conference and reviewed four major takeaway themes.
You can’t spend three days at a conference such as the recent Tools of Change (February 13-15) and not marvel at the logistics, atmospherics and the countless insights and discoveries sprinkled throughout the event.
The location at the Times Square Marriott provided a striking reminder of the new power of electronic media in lights and motion. The glittering mash up of news crawls, jumbo video screens, advertising and entertainment that now define the Manhattan theater district, and Broadway and 42nd Street has become an urban theme park.
This spectacular display proved later to be an on-site validation of Wired Magazine’s Tim Carmody’s TOC keynote on the abundance of media. He reviewed the sweep through history of those moments of revolutionary change in the mediums of texting—from scroll to codex to offset press. They altered the ways in which readers expect text to look and to be experienced – (cf 20th century avant garde poetry and its use of space and fonts on the page).
Carmody cited the economies of abundance in access to reading built around cheap paper made from wood instead of linen, and the explosion of imagery surrounding us in cinema, TV and street scene media. They are now yielding to an economy of abundance in the immediacy and infinite supply of digital media. It is an abundance that is both creating and feeding reader expectations for access, experience and timeliness. We are just scratching the surface.
TOC as a social and networking experience
From its inception six years ago, TOC has focused on bringing together innovators from the US and abroad – working both in established companies as well as in new ventures, and from among publishers as well as service and technology providers. No attendee at TOC can leave unrefreshed by some new idea or new way of looking at an old idea. I laid out some of my own takeaways in Part 1 of this report.
As with all conferences, TOC was as much a networking and social event as an information exchange. Not to get too carried away, but I have to say that the organizers succeeded in providing through the pacing of the events on into the evenings, and in the quality of the sponsored luncheons, receptions and breaks, and high-end social experiences. Choice of venue has everything to do with it, and the Marriott is well arranged for the purpose.
The event was launched the evening of the first day by a visit to our literary roots through an elegant and deliciously provisioned reception held in the New York Public Library’s magnificent grand foyer – entered by its wide plaza stairs from Fifth Avenue flanked by its landmark guardian lions.
Nothing could have better framed actor, director and author LeVar Burton’s keynote summation of our mission as publishing professionals the next day, “to make a difference in the service of storytelling.” Burton related how, inspired by Gene Rodenberry and science fiction as a boy, he was drawn into the literary world after being recruited, while an undergraduate at USC, to play Kunta Kinte in the TV series of Alex Haley’s "Roots."
Some books worth getting
Some authors also make effective presenters. With them comes discovery of books worth considering.
Eric Ries advocates for entrepreneurship in “The Lean Startup” (Crown Business) The entrepreneur creates something new under conditions of extreme uncertainty. Startups are constantly experimenting and require management that stays grounded and is ready to change direction. The book gets into how we can test our visions continuously, and adapt and adjust before it is too late.
Clay Johnson in “The Information Diet” (O’Reilly) advocates for The Whole News Movement. We have become addicted to “confirmation bias” and “opinion tastes better than the news” (especially ones that confirm what we already think). “Our news providers are now carefully tailoring content to the clicks of millions of readers, with the consequence of catering to their most base instincts, and churning out information-obese citizens.” Johnson believes there must be a better way. He makes the case for the “Whole Foods” model of content.
Baratunde Thurston, co-Founder of the black political blog Jack and Jill Politics and Digital Director of The Onion, also a standup comic among other things, wound up the second day with a rollicking diversion to humor and satire (“if you want to be the next Black president don’t talk about Black people”) in telling us about his book being released this month. “How to be Black” (Harper Collins), combines autobiography, political commentary and humor. For more on the book and to apply for his “Black Card” visit www.gotblackness.com
Walking the floor
Content management, conversion and publication services dominated the exhibit area – with sponsors and standard bearers in the industry such as Ingram, Innodata, Copia, Blackboard, Libra Digital , Code Mantra, Bowker, HP and Oce/Cannon showing the flag and introducing new features.
Here are some new offerings that caught my eye walking the floor as worthy of your interest – but by no means intended to exclude others of equal or more value that may have escaped me.
• Ingram Vital Source has combined with the BlackBoard Learn platform to make available access to the content in the 80,000 digital text book editions they host from all publishers (www.ingramcontent.com).
• Jouve North America and Apple- for publishers of any size, Jouve has introduced a service for smoothing the way for titles to get into Apple’s iStore (firstname.lastname@example.org)
• Libre Digital since its acquisition by RR Donnelley is offering its end to end content management, production and distribution solutions to mid-sized and smaller independent publishers (http://www.libredigital.com/publisher-services)
New and Specialized Entries
• Aquafadas: offers a digital publishing system that enables creation and testing of apps without any required coding, with an affordable one time fee structure (www.aquafadas.com/en/publishing/demo)
• BookieJar: an eBook marketplace with substantial social marketing and conversion supports (one of the TOC innovation award winners) (www.BookieJar.com)
• BooktiQ: one of the entries in the TOC new venture showcase –provides end to end editorial, design, production, publication and marketing services for self publishers (www.bookgtiq.com)
• Inkling This seems a splendid collaborative dream tool, imho, for taking advantage of the graphic, interactive and media features of the iPod and applying it to text and complex book design and distribution (http://www.inkling.com/)
• Publiwide: A Swiss based sophisticated enhanced eTextbook transformation and distribution service (www.publiwide.com)
• Tizra: worth a look see for online Publishing suite and content management for e-commerce and distribution, with an array of optimizing features (www.tizra.com)
The Back Story
I am an unabashed enthusiast in support of trade conferences and marvel in particular at the O’Reilly accomplishments.
O’ReIlly Media was first formed by Tim O’Reilly as O’Reilly & Associates in 1978. He saw the need for information exchange, development and publication that would keep up with the fast moving changes in software technology. They are known for their iconoic “animal cover books” for software developers, and have pioneered in creation of the first commercial web site and leading intiatives in the open source and Web 2.0 movements.
They sponsor conferences in the U,S. and abroad throughout the year that focus on media technology trends and innovation (http://conferences.oreillynet.com). If something new is going on, it is likely that an O’Reilly conference or series will emerge to deal with it.
One has to marvel at the organizing skill and effort that goes into mapping and executing a conference of this diversity so that it emerges as a smooth and immersive experience. However, If you surrender to the currents, coming ashore at the end of the process reveals a destination – enriched perspectives on what this business is all about, and how your enterprise can relate to opportunities going forward.
I asked Kat Meyer, co-chair of the event with Joe Wikert, how it was put together. She described to me that planning for the next event begins almost immediately after the close of the current one, with the help of an in-house committee as well as external advisers. When a theme has been arrived at, a call is sent out to the industry. In response, they might get 300 to 350 or more submissions. These are then screened and reduced to a manageable number. Gaps are filled by invitation.
Recently they have also asked for videos showing style of presentation. Meantime the logistics for the event are handled by a conference management group inside the O’Reilly organization. Their goal – to make of TOC an experience, not just an event.
Imho – mission accomplished!
Eugene G. Schwartz is editor at large for ForeWord Reviews, an industry observer and an occasional columnist for Book Business magazine. In an earlier career, he was in the printing business and held production management positions at Random House, Prentice-Hall/Goodyear and CRM Books/Psychology Today. A former PMA (IBPA) board member, he has headed his own publishing consultancy, Consortium House. He is also Co-Founder of Worthy Shorts Inc., a development stage online private press and publication service for professionals as well as an online back office publication service for publishers and associations. He is on the Publishing Business Conference and Expo Advisory Board.