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.

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3 comments

  1. Of course, as ever shoot the messenger . . . I’ve spoken to a number of people about the conference and they say it didn’t work within the context of Frankfurt. We don’t take quotes out of context, and we don’t “spice up” comments to fill a hole as you suggest. Andrew Savikas has his say in response in full in tomorrow’s Frankfurt Daily. So yes let’s debate this, but let’s not pretend there isn’t a fundamental division in publisher attitude to drm appearing, with TOC very much leaning one way, and trade publishers suggesting that another approach might also be worth hearing.

    1. Hello Philip,

      I’m sorry that it seems that way, I really am. Perhaps I am being unfair and more then likely I am talking only to people who had a generally positive view, but I’m not quite sure what people expect from the event.

      It was only a day long and, for Europe, was a fairly new event. Had the program been longer, I imagine there would have been greater room for stringer voices on DRM advocacy.

      Even saying that though, George Walkley delivered a pretty good defence of DRM and copyrights during his Pech Kucha speech.

      Eoin

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