Conferences

Digital Book World

Brooklyn Bridge from Brooklyn Bridge Park
Creative Commons License photo credit: brew ha ha

I’ll be travelling for the next two weeks.

I was invited to speak on a panel at Digital Book World, an amazing and exciting conference on digital change in the world of Trade Publishing, in New York City on Tuesday 26th. I’ve decided to hang around for the second day of the conference as well.

The event is chaired by Mike Shatzkin, CEO and founder of The Idea Logical Company (an exceptionally smart man, you should be reading his blog) and by F+W Media (a very impressive company).

I’m really delighted to be taking part and especially pleased that I will be meeting so many of the people I have been discussing these topics with over the last few years. Some of them I was fortunate enough to meet when I was speaking at TOC Frankfurt and it will be fun to see them again as well.

After the conference I’ll be travelling Northwest to Chicago for some well earned rest. I’ll make scathing comparisons between how they cope with snow in Illinois and Ireland I am sure.

So, feel free to drop me a line but don’t be too surprised if the email takes a bit longer to elicit a response than normal.

Eoin

Children’s Books Ireland: Digital Developments Seminar

kindle_etch02

With thanks to Flickr user adafruit used under CC Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic Licence

I’m working with the wonderful people at Children’s Books Ireland to make a Digital Developments Seminar happen in Tallaght Library on 28 November 2009. I’m really rather looking forward to it:

Digital Developments will focus on where digital changes have taken publishing so far and what further changes can be expected in the future. The seminar will also offer practical tools and strategies to authors, booksellers, and publishers alike, on how to take the next step into the world of digital and social media.

The half-day event will feature a keynote address from me and a panel discussion featuring Ivan O’Brien, Susan Carleton and Vanessa Robertson. It is going to be wonderful.

For more information visit the event page over at CBI.

I’m hoping that it will be practical, useful and focused on the real application of technology for authors, publishers and booksellers.
Eoin

Links of Interest (At Least to Me) 19/10/2009

The Frankfurt Cleared The Air Edition

Richard Eoin Nash’s post on the Frankfurt Book Fair blog is all kinds of excellent:

Not only, it turns out, are the readers of the world looking to buy our content if we can deliver it to them digitally, but the world’s leading hardware companies are looking to help us. Along with Sony, iRex, TXTR, and other dedicated reading device manufacturers exhibiting, presenting, and working the floor, two Apple executives were traversing the halls of the Fair to let publishers know all the opportunities that await them on that platform. (Let it be said: that platform, right now, is the iPhone. Not any other rumored device. Apple has not been in private discussions about a larger device and reports that they have are a hoax. But Apple does believe in the opportunity for the publishing industry’s content, contrary to the occasional snarky comment from Jobs.) Apple is working to improve the Books section of the App store to make it more browsable, and they are trying to help publishers find the right developers to work with.

You should take the time to read all the contributions from Richard and his fellow Book Fair Bloggers, they provide a nice slice of the fair.

Brian O’Leary has put the slides for his trouble causing presentation on piracy up on Slideshare, when you read through, you’ll find it hard to find the controversy and wonder just how tightly poised those knee-jerk reactions are.

The news of Google’s Google Editions, which first came to light back in June has been formed up by more recent news. Like this AP story:

Tom Turvey, head of Google Book Search’s publisher partnership program, said the price per book would be set by their publishers and would start with between 400,000 to 600,000 books in the first half of 2010.
“It will be a browser-based access,” Turvey said Thursday at the 61st Frankfurt Book Fair. “The way the e-book market will evolve is by accessing the book from anywhere, from an access point of view and also from a geographical point of view.”
The books bought from Google, and its partners, would be accessible on any gadget that has a Web browser, including smartphones, netbooks and personal computers and laptops. A book would be accessible offline after the first time it was accessed.

Of course as you would expect it is platform neutral (if web based/cloud based is neutral), omnipresent and smart. Anyone who thinks that devices are the future is living in the past.

There is a whole load of other stuff on the margins, but in terms of signal, I think this is it!
Eoin

TOCFrankfurt, now with controversy

UPDATE: I missed the comments by Sara Lloyd on Andrew Savikas’ post over at the TOC Community. Worth reading in context. They go a long way towards making sense of her comments. Also fits in with my experience of Sara.

Whither Trade Publishing

Whither Trade Publishing


People often disagree
Personally, I thought TOCFrankfurt delivered as much as might be expected of a one day conference. But there are those who disagree. Or at least so The Bookseller tells us:

Fionnuala Duggan, director of Random House Group Digital, told The Bookseller Daily: “Some of the speakers were computer programmers, who have peculiar and particular needs, and what is right for their type of publishing is not necessarily right for ours. There are broader questions that need to be answered and issues that need to be addressed before claiming that DRM-free is the answer. O’Reilly is just one of the many voices we need to listen to.”

And:

Sara Lloyd, digital director of Pan Macmillan, was the first keynote speaker at the conference, and has also spoken at its events in New York.

She was cautious about suggestions that O’Reilly was pushing a certain agenda, but said: “The O’Reilly perspective is quite slanted by the content and market that they serve, and that perspective shines through in their choice of speaker and subject matter.” She added: “There needs to be a greater understanding of what the differences are between a computer software manual and a fiction bestseller. I’d like to see more of a consumer publishing perspective.”

Now perhaps I’m blinded by the fact that I attended TOCFrankfurt free of charge* because I spoke at the Pech Kucha session organised by George Walkley. On the other hand I couldn’t help but feel that those pushing a negative about the conference had some other motive than the schedule.

For instance, Dominique Raccah of Sourcebooks was nothing if not practical and alive to the realities faced by fiction publishers.

In fact her presentation (the best and most inspirational of the day to my mind) dealt with the thorny issue of simultaneous (or rather not simultaneous as the recent controversy over Bran Hambric indicates) releases of print and ebook versions of titles, the challenges of growing digital revenues while keeping the print company alive not to mention her valuable explanation of the publishing continuum for niches something I had a concept of but she put across very clearly.

Sourcebooks is not another O’Reilly whose success in digital and online endeavours has often been put down to its particular audience. Rather, Sourcebooks is a savvy active and realistic independent publisher. They may dwarf quite a few English and Irish independents but they are hardly in the league of Random House. It might serve Random and other to listen more closely to what Dominique had to say. It seems to me that there was far more than just O’Reilly’s viewpoint on display at TOCFrankfurt, as Kassia Krozser’s comment in the story makes plain:

I have one major question about Fionnuala Duggan’s comment about some of the speakers being computer programmers (just glancing at the bios of the speakers, I count one whose work is primarily programming, though, yes, some have that skill on their resume). The speakers come from a wide range of backgrounds and perspectives. While I agree that each publishing house has its own unique needs and requirements, that doesn’t mean commonality doesn’t exist. The comment about piracy suggests to me that the issue is more that the industry is not ready (or willing) to hear certain perspectives; my thinking is that you don’t have to agree with what’s being said, but it’s instructive to listen to these voices.

I still have questions
Further it is not as if what was being said was all that controversial (there is a good summary of the early keynotes here at Scholarly Kitchen). At least it should not have been.

On DRM and Piracy for instance. Cory Doctorow is a forward thinker on Copyright that much is clear, but his views are well known and hardly that crazy. Much of what he says makes sense to “the people of the book”. I certainly have problems with excessive zeal for copyright and have no love for DRM.

Brian O’Leary of Magellan Partners drew quite a storm with his piracy talk but from talking with him afterward (I missed his session) his point was not that piracy is good or bad but that :

    1) you need to measure it to see if it is costing you and how much it is costing you and
    2) if it isn’t hurting your sales, is there a chance it is helping them? If it is, how would you measure that

The fact that he is basing that assessment on evidence rather than gut reaction gives his position a great deal of credence in my view and ought not be dismissed out of hand. The Bookseller seemed to cover that well in their defence.

And then there is the fact that I know and like Sara Lloyd. Any discussions I’ve had with her leaves me thinking she is not 100 miles away from where O’Reilly are on most issues, nor for that matter would her speech have indicated that she was either. I rather liked her notes that we were IN the revolution and that publishers should focus on platforms not devices. One might be misled into thinking that O’Reilly was an exemplar of focusing on platforms (hello Safari) and the more you read about their current sales, the more they provide evidence of being IN the revolution.

I’m tempted to say that perhaps the Bookseller made lukewarm remarks into something more than they were to spice up what’s proving to be quite a dull fair, but who am I to cast such vile suggestions …

More to follow soon
Eoin

*Full disclosure, O’Reilly waived the conference fee and hosted a poorly attended speakers reception after the conference, but I paid my own travel expenses.

Start With XML update

Eoin Purcell

Last week I had the distinct pleasure of attending the StartWithXML seminar that O’Reilly, Idea Logical & The Publishers Licensing Society ran in the British Library. The event itself was fantastically interesting as were the attendees.

Will Hawkins, who I met for the first time at the seminar, has a nice overview of the event on his blog here and I totally echo the wonder and awe that this section inspires:

Each book has all of the information about the title held in XML as well as the book in digital format so that, literally, at the click of a button, they can produce 48-page catalogues about their lists, feed their web site and make versions of each book in different formats. Anyone who has ever tried to put together a catalogue in a conventional way will know that it can take weeks and weeks to do this.

Want to know of whom he speaks? It should be obvious, but just in case, it’s Snowbooks.

Aside from that, I was struck very heavily by just how much further down the path of digitisation, chunking and generally the new reality STM and Academic publishers are. One eye opener was the wonderfully succinct and yet powerful presentation (all of the presentations are on slideshare here) by Mark Majurey from Taylor & Francis. Have a read below, but the effort is somewhat lost, because you don’t get to hear Mark saying that T&F were selling chunked content online as early as 2001!!! It just didn’t take off hugely.

When you hear that news, you realise how far trade publishers have to come before they are even at the races with some of these things.

An eye-opening day,
Eoin

SXSW – Far From The Madding Crowd

Eoin Purcell

Twitter it up
There has been extensive coverage of the New Think For Old Publishers panel at SXSW on 14 March. By most accounts it was a complete and utter disaster for publishers. Here’s a sample of opinion more here, here and here

As per usual Kassia krozer @ Booksquare summed both sides up pretty well in my view:

Let me be clear. Absolutely clear. Not one word spoken in that session, either from the panelists or from the audience, was new or innovative. The panel, well, we’ve all heard job descriptions before. The audience? That was one very long line of people saying the same things we’ve been saying to the publishing industry for ten years. And yet the publishing people treated our comments as if they were items to be added to a list.

It got me thinking?
What do we as publishers actually want to change? Are we, like the frustrated audience members angry at things in the industry that we would see change? In an ideal world where we got to direct digital change what would we like that change to be? Would authors join us in this campaign?

What would publishers do?
I think most publishers would like a simple platform that allowed them to offer their content online and be paid up-front for it. That seems easy doesn’t it. Except our cousins in newspaper land have lost their lunch trying to monetize their content online and almost all of them have surrendered to free service with ads and most of them are failing even with that.

What’s more the book is pretty much the most simple platform there is right now and lots of people like it. So moving away from it seems a little wild for most publishers. On top of that authors don’t seem keen to hang round waiting for the digital world to start rewarding them either. Whenever a book deal presents itself, bloggers and journalists all take them.

Where does that leave us for digital distribution and selling? Well e-commerce is nice, except you get Amazon and its crazy glitches and its harsh terms. On the other hand, ebooks seem to be starting to break through but you still have to deal with Amazon for those too!

Of course you might take the perspective that if we were to drive digital change, we would drive it along a path that gave our books (content) more attention (such tools even exist). If we were to drive change we would use it to sell more books directly to our customers in order to learn about them at the customer level and so tailor our products to their taste and their pocket. If we could drive digital we would build communities about our content and aggregate content from other publishers to help support our own. But then I’m just talking crazy!

Maybe I am talking crazy but
The problem I have with the current penchant for beating publishers up is threefold:

1) Many publishers (not to mention authors) are doing some pretty amazing things. Tor is building a wonderful, engaged and exciting community of readers around SF&F, Osprey have already done so around Military History. Penguin have spent a small fortune on trying new tools for reading and writing fiction. Macmillan and Random and Harper have all embraced blogs and Facebook and twitter and the web in general seeking new audiences, fresh feedback and platforms for their authors.

2) Despite the urge for the new, it doesn’t yet pay for itself and it may never do so. Andrew Keen is right about that if nothing else. Without money, artists will not create and currently the system that rewards both the artistic and the serious (or not serious) non-fiction author is breaking (if not entirely broken) and the chances of fixing it anytime soon are slim. Unless we revert to older methods of financing art and journalism, campaign funding, endowments, patronage and subscription (all being tried in modest enough [and a few large scale] ways) we may lose something pretty valuable.

3) Radicals are not always right. Even if we might accept that in this case it seems like digital is the way forward, that doesn’t mean publishers will survive the shift. Its not unreasonable of them to be reluctant to leap when right now there is a damaged but viable system in place that delivers unspectacular but solid enough revenues and profit figures.

To wrap it up!
Which leads me to my final thought, despite my own leaning towards a digital future, it is still entirely possible that the paper book remains the preeminent (I note not only) form of publication well into the next century and beyond. It currently seems likely to remain the most profitable (not the only profitable form) form of publication too. If you are an exec at a leading paper book publisher, then it’s a big bet right now to put the house on digital. If you get it wrong you’ve cut open the golden egg laying goose to show her insides to the public and have only the guts to show for it, the public were not that impressed and have watched the show for free on youtube. If you get it right you might still loose the golden goose and the people who benefit are your authors.

So to the radicals I say, lay off the publishers, some of them don’t care, but others are actually succeeding in changing the system and many many more are trying to figure out a way to make it happen without going out of business or destroying their companies, a not inconsiderable consideration in the current environment!

Eoin
PS: None of which changes the fact that I want to be able to buy an ebook version of a novel even if it is only just released in the US and I live in Ireland!