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O'Reilly TOC Conference, Day Two, by Neil Edde

O'Reilly TOC Conference, Day One, by Neil Edde

Toc_2Sybex publisher Neil Edde is our "man on the scene" for O'Reilly's Tools of Change for Publishing conference.  He filed this report for the first day of keynotes/sessions:

Keynote #1: Retooling HarperCollins for the 21st Century. Brian Murray--Group President, HarperCollins.

I'm assuming the point of this one was "here's what a big dinosaur publishing company is doing in response to Web 2.0". Synopsis: HC was woefully behind the curve five years ago, then conducted some customer research that led them to conclude that they'd better get with the whole digital content program. But their goal was, and still is, to control the entirety of their "digital warehouse." The logic was, if publishers control their own physical inventory, why shouldn't they control their digital inventory. So they set out to create a digital parallel to their physical warehouse/archive. Seemed logical at first, but he failed to acknowledge that once a publisher ships books out of their warehouse, the retailers and other distributors assume "control" of the inventory. And he never really addressed the whole "multiple platform" issue that's posing many challenges in the digital realm. I can only assume that they're converting their content to XML or some other industry standard, but he never stated this explicitly. Struck me as more of a "rights" control than a "content" control approach. The speaker's tone was genial enough, but there was a clear anti-Google / anti-piracy undercurrent to the talk.

Keynote #2. FREE. The Economics of Abundance and the Price of Zero--Chris Anderson, Editor in Chief, Wired Magazine.

A preview of his forthcoming book titled (surprise!) "FREE". Says it won't be out until late 2008, however, which made me wonder if anything he discussed would still be relevant then. Anyway... His argument was based on the premise that as the costs for underlying resources (in the case of publishing, production costs) trend toward zero, customers perceptions of value change, and thus publishers have to rethink pricing, etc. Chris is obviously a smart guy, but I didn't find his ideas for "giving his book away" to be particularly revolutionary. Examples: free audio book for purchasers of physical book; free e-books with embedded advertising; page-view e-books on web site with in-frame advertising; sponsored books (e.g., custom branded books for corporate buy-backs). He did acknowledge that his goals (self-promotion) often diverged from those of his publisher and retailers (profit), predicting (accurately, I believe) that communication between authors and publishers about how to reconcile these divergent goals will be more critical as this becomes more apparent to more people in publishing. (Again, nothing too new there, but valid nonetheless.) Chris is a firm believer in the long-term viability of good, old-fashioned book publishing, as he sees the book as ""he last physical media product that makes sense" (in its current form, as opposed to a digital equivalent). I sensed some resentment toward publishers for not providing enough promotional and marketing support (never hear that before,eh?), but he did acknowledge that new tools available to authors (blogs mostly) helped mitigate some of this problem. His session on "Getting More (A Lot More) Out of Marketing with Authors" was mostly an elaboration on the power of blogging.

Session #1: Beyond the Book: Online Content Distribution for BookPublishers--Allen Noren, Online Marketing, O'Reilly.

This was mostly a review of O'Reilly's e-publishing initiatives, including Safari, Short Cuts, chapter sales, e-books, etc. Nothing you can't find by reviewing their web site. One interesting thing he pointed out was their partnership with the Copyright Clearance Center, which I understood to be a way of expediting content licensing for custom publications. Sounded like a new venture for them, so he didn't have much to say about the success of the program to date. The whole "modularization" and "chunking" theme came up in this session (and in a few other sessions as well), the point being that publishers can no longer rely on a one-size fits all content delivery model. "Searchability" and "discoverability" were also big buzz words.

Session #2: Getting More (A Lot More) Out of Marketing with Authors. Chris Anderson & Marci Alboher.

See note above. In part a call-to-arms for authors to blog more; in part a bitch session about how poorly some publishers serve the promotional needs/desires of their authors.

Session #3: Gadgetopia: What New Hardware Offers Publishers--Paul Michelman and Bill Damon,  Harvard Business School Press; Paul Calento, InfoWorld Media.

A disappointing session. Most of the focus was on small mobile devices (iPhone in particular) and what type of content is suitable for this format. Sounded promising, but it was mostly a gadget lovefest. Only interesting takeaway was the claim that people in Europe and Asia are already buying a lot of content (print, video, audio) for mobile devices. Question is, will that trend make its way across the Atlantic and Pacific respectively.

Session #4. Social Software. Gavin Bell, Nature Publishing.

An interesting review of site such as MySpace, Flickr, YouTube, etc., and what possibilities there are for publishers and authors to tap into this trend. Wasn't about doing anything specific with any of these sites, but more about using their business models as ways of building communities. One interesting idea put forth was allowing customers to create personal profile pages on your web site and thereby elicit direct customer input while also gathering customer data for later analysis.

Neil was just summarizing his thoughts from today's sessions, so I'll do my best to pull them together in a post tonight or tomorrow morning...


Jason Marcuson

Neil sounds disappointed by and pessimistic about this publishing conference so far. Since the conference is called "Tools of Change," were there any good tools? Or any changes of note?

Neil Edde

Reading over my notes, I can see how it would sound like I was disappointed with yesterday's proceedings. Not the case, really. There has been an odd but interesting mix of old school / new school publishing discussion going on, and suffice it to say that the conference agenda isn't the only agenda at play here in San Jose. Lots of competing interests trying to place nice together for a couple days. Our friends at O'Reilly deserve credit for bringing such a diverse group of publishing and technology professionals together. This is the first TOC conference, so I'm willing to forgive any shortcomings in individual sessions.

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