It’s Half Time in Publishing and We’re Changing Forward Fast: Notes on the 6th Annual Tools of Change Conference (Part 1 of 2)
Where does a publisher go for the latest in process, for a view of the future and to map a path for getting there?
This year’s three-day 6th annual TOC conference provided an immersive opportunity to do so. It was at once a celebration of the traditions of storytelling and an exploration of new developments and business frameworks for their presentation and distribution. The theme was "Change/Forward/Fast and Start Again."
The more than 1500 industry professionals, including a contingent from Europe, Latin America, Austraia and elsewhere, met on February 13-15, at the New York Marriott at Times Square, filling to capacity the well laid out conference facilities.
So many ways of dealing with the question were offered at Tools of Change that my report this year is in two parts.
OVERVIEW OF THE CONFERENCE
The event featured 60 breakout sessions, 15 first day workshops, 17 plenary keynotes, and walkthroughs to some 50 exhibitors, forums and spontaneous late evening round tables, a "digital petting zoo" (hands-on array of reading devices old and new), an invitation-only executives conference, receptions, and a new-venture startup showcase.
Issues laid on the table among the many included:
- the transformation of copyright from intellectual to commercial property protection,
- survive and thrive strategies for the new roles of libraries and bookstores in nurturing communities that connect content to readers and readers to each other,
- organizing workflows for multiple digital, interactive and print platforms
- challenges to traditional industry practices being mounted by lean and agile publishing frameworks, and
- new subscription and usage models for monetizing content.
- Recaps, slides and videos of most of the presentation can be found at toccon.com/toc2012/public/schedule/proceedings
Here are highlights of my take-aways from the conference (in Part 2 are some additional specifics):
Agile Publishing Frameworks and other forms of collaboration:
Experimental and visionary thinkers in the industry continue to grapple with constraints imposed by print-based production and brick walk in store distribution conventions. These thinkers seek to apply the social community building, authoring and sharing models of collaboration. As Sourcebooks CEO Dominique Raccah, exclaimed in frustration, "We’re still stuck in print era systems."
Raccah and Joe Wikert, General Manager and Publisher of O’Reilly Media and Raccah, both detailed how an agile publishing framework can be applied across the wide spectrum from nonfiction to fiction, and short and long form whn there is well defined content and a focused audience.
Based on expressed reader interests, agile publishing asks if you can more efficiently build what your readers want and whether you can provide a better author experience. It seeks to create a conversation between author and reader where the author leads the creation – useful for expert based authors.
Agile publishing frameworks for books work for an ever increasing audience of readers/users for whom engagement in developing and reviewing content is complementary to the reading and discovery experience. It is a method of bringing new works to market with early publication and with reader participation in fashioning iterations, testing price and managing revisions. Success in this form of course requires author buy-in and outreach to a community of interest.
For an excellent outline of Agile Publishing concepts and practices go to www.enteringtheshiftage.com. See also Kristen McLean’s TOC presentation outline on Agile Publishing applications to traditional publishing at http://www.toccon.com/toc2012/public/schedule/detail/21923
Deconstruction of old business models and application of new ones
In a series of panel discussions led by blogger Kassia Krozsier (www.Booksquare.com) and small press publisher and innovator Richard Nash (http://www.rnash.com/) new ways were explored to break out of packaged content as a unit of sale. Methods of acquiring subscription revenue and usage fees were described by publishers from abroad and in the U.S. Models for leveraging existing content were described for the Dow Jones Enterprise Media Group and for CQ Publications (firststreet.cqpress.com). Hybrid publishing models were presented by startups Demibooks, providing a software platform for creating and distributing interactive iBooks (demibooks.com), and by PubSlush, a social purpose publisher that determines by a prepublication-purchase reader "vote" whether a book gets published. (pubslush.com).
For those of you not familiar with Kroszier and Nash a permanent link to their blogs will provide you with well written, out of the box, informed and engaging thinking about books and publishing.
Revisiting bricks and mortar and print
Public libraries and private booksellers provide real life community-centered places for reading, literary, cultural and learning events. Their place on the TOC agenda reminds us that they are vibrant nodes in the cluster of reading and literary experiences in the digital era. Library patronage of 169 million users according to Library Journal’s Barbara Genco remains robust, and includes children, teens, seniors, the newly arrived and avid readers.
Booksellers continue to attract the browser and shopper – often before going online to make the purchase. Their challenges are how to incorporate the uses of technology into their value proposition, and how to monetize their sercvices. Perhaps an indy e-book reader, Google editions, and the expresso POD book machine will provide additional on site purchasing revenue along with adding services and products to the bookstore experience.
Publishing analyst Thad McIlroy reviewed results of book buyer behavior surveys that provided a profile of the balance between digital and print media and the place of bookstores going forward. They are available as free downloads on (versoadvertising.com)
While libraries own real estate (much of it bequeathed by Andrew Carnegie over 100 years ago) and public support (challenged by waning budgets), the increasing demand by patrons for access to eBook circulation and the reluctance of major book publishers to allow new list titles to enter the circulation stream threaten the core service provided by the library.
Library issues were discussed in a panel on the Library Alternative led by Peter Brantley, Director of the BookServer Project at the Internet Archive ("libraries should not be collateral damage in the wars among publishers and eBook distributors") and in a keynote by Barbara Genco of Library Journal ("67% of library eBook readers buy a print edition")
In a presentation on Building the Community Bookstore of the 21st Century, Preveen Madan, head of the transformati9n project at Bay Area Kepler's bookstore’s asserted that, "after 18 years of Amazon – bookstores remain a place for discovery." He laid out plans for moving the store into the future with a restructuring of its cultural and commercial purposes and developing a variety of models for community and other revenue support. See details of the project at keplers2020.com.
There is hope beyond the data – "The Big C"
Publishing came late to the concept of marketing (as opposed to selling) and to market research .Through the projects of the Book Industry Study Group (BISG.org), industry information services such as Bowker and Bookscan, and surveys such as those conducted by Verso Advertising (above), we now get hard data on which to focus publishing goals and investments.
Making data come alive through dynamic graphics provides new ways of looking at an established resource. Roger Magoulas, O’Reilly’s Media Research Director demonstrated how data collected from BookScan can be poured into a taxonomy of 1000 attributes and eleven clusters yielding graphic displays that immediately visualize significance and positioning and identify strengths and weaknesses as well as opportunities.
Steve Rubel of Edelman Digital in his keynote observed that since 2008 when conventional wisdom was that media were dying at the onslaught of the internet, media has fought back and innovated, and trust in the media is on the rise. He reported on five keys to media success he found in a range of interviews with executive across the country to identify what was driving success: curate and become expert in your field, data mine continuously, make your content last, provide depth of field as well as surface reach and, if you have superstars in your ranks, covet and hold on to them.
Wrapping up in a final Keynote, angel investor and entrepreneur Linda Holliday defended the durability and economic value of good things –content, "The Big C". Engaged and productive human beings are willing to pay for good content curated, well written and credible. Americans already spend $190 billion a year on content of various kinds.
Counseling against the view that we are being dumbed down by the common denominator of free and superficial media, Holiday declared, with the help of an iconic slide now familiar to just about everyone, that It’s Half Time in Publishing and the future is ahead!
Maybe to the better half: blogs have taught us we can generate fresh thinking worth reading on an ongoing basis that requires hard work; Flicker taught us what a good photo is; Twitter taught us how hard it is to be dense and concise. Sharing together, social media will perhaps even amplify further the distinctions between great and OK.
Content might want to be free, Holliday said, but many people have expectations for something that might be better – like maybe the best -- and we will pay for this. The opportunities lie ahead.
Note: In Part 2 I will review the atmospherics of the conference, some books worth reading keynoted by authors, and a list of nine interesting new vendor offerings you may want to look into.
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.