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Fear and Loving at TOC

It’s that time again, when the digi-literati convene on the Marriott Marquis in Manhattan and gleefully frighten the hell out of everybody. (One year, after Seth Godin gave a presentation, a CEO muttered to me, “Now do I slit my wrists?”)

TOC is one of those conferences that is simultaneously exhilarating and depressing. Exhilarating because so many possibilities are gaily strewn across the immediate future like lights on a Christmas tree. Depressing because…when you get down to the nitty-gritty of implementation, that “immediate” future becomes further and further away. “Now” begins to look like next year. The glitter wears off the possibilities and they become work, just like everything else.

It’s an unnerving experience if you’re not prepared for it. And although this is TOC’s fourth incarnation, many publishers are still not prepared for it. Which seems to be part of O’Reilly’s job in this industry – to push the business past its comfort zone, even just for a couple of days. Enough pushing, the theory goes, and eventually what was unnerving last year is the way of doing business this year.

SBook publishers are a tough bunch to push. Conservative by nature, cautious to the bone, book publishers do not embrace change – and that’s putting it mildly. It was winter of 1999 when ONIX was adopted as a BISAC standard. It’s now 11 years later and…we are still lecturing publishers on the importance of good metadata (when it’s more important now than it was in 1999!).

This is a quality very difficult to explain to vendors who come into book publishing with great solutions, and who frequently leave book publishing with extreme disillusionment. Will book publishing ever move beyond ink-on-paper? (When it wants to.) Does it want to? (Not particularly.) Will it survive? (Yes.)

But O’Reilly’s right, and vendors need to pay attention. Looking back on the presentations for TOC 2009, many of the ideas offered up then have just begun to trickle out into the mainstream. Decent formatting for ebooks is a good idea. Social networking helps call attention to your titles. Women read loads of ebooks. Do consumer research. XML is a great tool that will help a publisher create books and other materials in any number of formats.

Vendors should not be discouraged by this seeming slowness – on the contrary, many publishers are only just now ready to hear what you have to say. There are so many of you who have such great tools – DAMs, editorial tools, production and XML tools, social media platforms, workflow management – and the emphasis on progress and innovation at TOC drives home the very points that you are making daily to prospective clients.

Yes, publishing is behind other entertainment industries – notably the music business, notably in issues like piracy and pricing. But it IS moving ahead. Maybe not under its own steam – recently, the mere fact of the Apple iPad led publishers into a strong enough position to finally negotiate with Amazon over ebook pricing – but it is being hauled, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century.

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1 Comment »

  1. V. interesting post – did anyone attend TOC 2010 who reads this blog? It seems to have become the main venue for the publishing forerunners of the second half of the year.

    Comment by Susan Carl — April 8, 2010 @ 9:13 pm

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