I really wanted to check out this newest O'Reilly Conference, Tools of Change. Its themed around the move away from traditional printing on paper (as well as a move away from all traditional printing entails including friction in the form of cost of production, distribution costs, obsolesence). Of course people like the aspects of books that make them easy to carry around and actually read. I used to say I'd never read a novel online (before Cory Doctorow's Down and Out In the Magic Kingdom of which I was a huge fan). These days I mostly "read" books in the form of audiobooks and I've been working off and on for the last year on a wiki-based book for O'Reilly called Art of Community, so I'm a prime candidate for Tools of Change.
Through O'Reilly I've met online publishing pioneers like comic book author Scott McCloud, and Philip Greenspun. Wikipedia guided by Jimmy Wales has been a O'Reilly favorite project for a long time as much for its vision as for working out the first practical method for moderating publicly contributed content. This conference is a first stab at discussing these trends and generally starting conversations in the traditional publishing world.
So, sitting in the morning keynotes. First keynote (after intro remarks by TimO and conference co-chair Sarah Milstein, including this funny video Introducing The Book)...is Brian Murray, a muck-muck from Harper Collins Publishers who told the story about their path to digitizing content (very marketeerish but full of information if you were willing to parse it). Most interesting was that they had to look hard for a vendor to support their transition to "Digital Warehousing", and their plan to build what they needed, including rolling in some of their existing digital assets in the form of their pre-existing workflow and electronic text management systems. And of course they are reaping benefits in the form of less dupilcation of effort and wider distribution...however they are still holding a lot of the cards to try to drive all traffic to their own site. Their content browser for instance is distributed as a widget that drives eyeballs back to their site rather than running native on the site you were originally browsing. I'm wondering if and whether that kind of proprietary hold on things will hurt them in the long run?
Next up was Wired Magazine Editor In Chief, Chris Anderson (also Long Tail author, who apparently has a new book in the works called "Free" about the economics of giving things away). He says that in the 20th Century radio and TV changed the game via the economics of broadcast, which was the first widespread example of frictionless distribution and made advertsing a viable financial support model. Today this broadcast model is so pervasive that physical magazines such as Wired essentially sell eyeballs, and charge only because it converts free readers into advertising assets. Anyway...this man is writing a book, which will come out in 2 years time as a physical book (because he thinks physical books will not be obsolete any time soon because, well heck, they are comforting to have, hold and read). He thinks Free is the business model of the 21st Century, and so his book about the topic will explore as many aspects of free as he can arrange...so for instance, the audio book version will be free (because he is buying the rights). The unlocked e-book may be supported by ads (which he defends from his position as a glossy ad-driven magazine editor, but I'm not sure I relish). The physical book he's thinking of making a "sponsored book", or possibly a "loss leader" book for advertising purposes as he did with Long Tail (of which he gave 800 copies away to anyone who would blog a review). He may also offer a rebate on purchase if he can work one out.
Chris Anderson's reasons to give a book away:
1) Free Advertising
2) Digital books are still considered inferior, and some fraction of those people will convert to a physical book
3) Maximizes access to the "new influentials"
Why more books aren't given away:
1) Charter conflict....authors want to increase their personal fame and influence, but publishers want to make money (and don't yet understand that free can be an asset)
2) Channel conflict...bookstores don't want their product undercut
Have to take a moment to applaud Chris' willingness to work without Powerpoint Slides. His talk was wonderful and IMHO more interesting to listen to without visuals.
Last before the break, Tim O'Reilly talked about Web2.0, (again...but this time with a special publishing bent). He pointed out that while user generated content is really an important sea change, at the same time its not that new (since nearly all authors start as readers, witness J.K. Rowling). Like the Harper Collins guy, he talked about O'Reilly Media's entries into online publishing, Safari. Search changes the reading experience. Online readers only read 20% of a given title, but older content demand is satisfied. Search drives readership of out of print content. 40% of the content read on Safari accounts for only 9% of physical book sales. O'Reilly is still working out what implications this trend implies for the future of their business, and they are engaging in various experiments. On the subject of piracy, Tim thinks its progressive taxation...you get more out of additional exposure than it costs in lost sales. Tim ended with a call to be fearless and look to the future to re-discover publishing.
There was a Q&A, but as I asked a question, I didn't capture it. It was short (3 questions). Mine was about why the Harper Collins widget doesn't show up on Amazon, although I also commented in support of the notion that digital format books may actually be MORE compelling than print over time, since novels can include a soundtrack or rich image files.
My conceptual artist friend Catt Avery, who is sitting here with me at the keynotes, wonders how many folks in the audience today have YouTube accounts? There are lots of trad publishers here, so I'm guessing not many.