Last week’s O’Reilly Tools of Change (TOC) event in New York had a theme of Change/Forward/Fast. Based on the keynote presentations, I think the publishing industry heard loud and clear that they need to change….and now! However, the other underlying theme for the conference was also articulated by the hosts as “we are confused.” Needless to say, these two themes are in conflict with one another. How can you change if you are confused? Confusion generally leads to paralysis and that is what I have seen with publishers over the past few years.
While publishers heard success stories about building audiences before publishing a title and on-going interactions with that audience, what was suspiciously absent was how publishers are delivering content to the various devices. Maybe it was the wrong venue, but I suspect many of the success stories started once content was in a sellable format rather than how easily the content was created and published in their content management system.
I also suspect that many in the audience were from the business side of publishing and the TOC event makes them pause and think about their business. TOC did not, for me anyway, tackle the more difficult challanges of multi-channel publishing using home grown or antiquated technology. Sadly, that is what many publishers are wrestling with today. Once they are able to get content in ebook format, they can do really cool stuff with it. Until publishers address the content management side of the equation, I don’t see how they will efficiently meet time-to-market demands. The reality is that most ebooks today are created by publishing services vendors because they are converting various flavors of legacy files. Most publishers today are not multi-channel publishing but sticking with the print paradigm and then, through various publishing services vendors, creating ebooks for distribution. Publishers who are stuck with this publishing process need to “change/forward/fast.”
I will say that overall the TOC conference appears to be rejuvinated. Two years ago the conference seemed to have run its course, but I believe it is back to being an event that publishers will want to attend to learn how the newbies are doing it without the “burden” of print. Pushing the envelope is what TOC is best at and I hope they continue to push the industry’s thinking along the way.