Posted by: Katie | February 28, 2011

Tools of Change, Ebooks, Libraries and NYC

Wow. I can’t believe it’s been two weeks since my first day in NYC for the O’Reilly Tools of Change conference. I’m still trying to grapple with everything I learned and discovered at the conference. And it was a lot. The theme of the conference was “Publishing Without Boundaries”. Overall, I think the conference really lived up to its theme. I met people from all over the world (hi to my conference buddies, Kate Eltham and Alex Adsett from Queensland, AUS!!), discussed issues in publishing that were outside of my usual purview and was pushed to consider publishing in different ways. Here’s a quick summary of the sessionIts I did attend:

It’s All About Rights – Dru Zuretti and Skott Klebe, speakers – This was the morning workshop, and I ended up being a little late due to some issues with the train I’d taken in from Brooklyn. Overall it was an interesting session, but I felt like the majority of the session dealt with the parts of copyright I already know a fair amount about from my work as a librarian. The surprise to me during the session was that they asked who was currently reading a book. Many of us raised our hands. When asked the question of who knew the imprint of the title we were reading, I was the only person who answered. There may have been a couple of other people who knew, but a few out of a room of almost 50+ people, who are involved in publishing?!?! It did hurt a bit.

Metadata Boot Camp – Laura Dawson, Adam Witwer, and Michael Zuberbier, speakers – I’m a librarian. I love metadata, even if I’m not a cataloger. And I *really* am not a cataloger. I did like the session as I learned there are a ton of metadata schemes publishers attach to titles, and they don’t always integrate well. In this respect, libraries are probably pretty spoiled as we don’t have anywhere near the amount of datapoints publishers need to keep track of.

Going Digital: Launching a Digital-First Business From Within a Traditional Publisher – Angela James, Jenny Bullough, speakers – This workshop was about the creation of Carina Press within Harlequin. Now, I knew a lot of this from the perspective of an outsider watching the development of Carina from the public announcement of its existence. It was fascinating to me to see the questions posed to the speakers by people who work for other publishers. These questions gave me a great amount of insight into what the thought processes are of people who work on the “inside”.

Monday night was bowling and I learned that sometimes, I bowl very well with a drink in hand as bowling one-handed forces me to slow down and think a bit more about how I’m throwing the ball.

Morning Keynotes – The keynotes by Theodore Gray and Margaret Atwood blew me away. I want to get an iPad, just so I can get The Elements app. It’s the wannabe chemist inside me 🙂 Atwood’s slides, a few of which I had seen online a few days before, definitely lived up to the hype. I enjoyed having her perspective as it really forces you to think about how to provide authenticity and connection in a digital age.

Publisher CTO Panel: The Future of eBooks Technology – Well, I ended up only seeing the last bit of this, and ended up not really connecting with what they were saying due to missing out on so much of the panel. This is where I wished they had recorded the sessions so I could go back later and absorb even more information.

So, the reason I ended up missing so much of the panel was because I had gone to get a book signed by Margaret Atwood and ended up in a long discussion with Richard Nash. I love Richard, and would love to pick his brain more often in person. I don’t know if I ever told him, so if you’re reading this Richard, take note, I want to thank him from the bottom of my heart for giving me a pep talk when I said I was nervous about speaking the next day. Between his pep talk and the ones given to me by Heather McCormack, my hostess and moderator of my panel, I’m sure nerves would have hit me at a very inopportune moment.

Can You Afford Not to Consider Accessible Publishing Practices? – Dave Gunn, speaker- This was one of the sessions I was really looking forward to as accessiblity, in this case for visual and print-disabled readers, is a big issue for libraries. I frequently get requests for large print books when I’m working at my part-time job. Again, with regards to myself, I didn’t need any convincing of the need to consider accessibility when it comes to publishing, but I appreciated seeing the statistics presented as well as an overview of technologies and formats which are of assistance to readers with disabilities.

Bookselling in the 21st Century – Kassia Krozser, Lori James, Jenn Northington, Kevin Smokler, Jessica Stockton-Bagnulo, Malle Vallik, speakers – The comment that sticks most with me from this panel, and I’m pretty darn sure it was Jessica who said it (if it wasn’t her, then it was Jenn), was that independent bookstores compete by not competing. I’m seeing aspects of this sentiment popping up all over the place since I’ve heard it.

eReading Survey Findings and Research: A Look Behind the Numbers – Sarah Weinman, Matthew Bernius, Kelly Gallagher, Peter Hildick-Smith, Jennifer Manning, speakers – This session was a disappointment as the discussion seemed to focus more on general research methodology rather than an analysis of recent surveys conducted by the panel members.

Evening Keynotes – For me, the best of the Ignite TOC sessions (, there were 5, was the one done by Kate Eltham. I’m willing to concede part of that feeling may have been influenced by the fact we were firm conference buddies at that point, but it really did feel the most cohesive of the stories presented. Of the remaining keynotes, my favorites were Brian O’Leary’s “Context First: A Unified Field Theory of Publishing” as it challenged how we think of publishing and “containers”. The other was “From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg – Lonely Planet’s Publishing  Challenges for the 21st Century” by Gus Balbontin. Part of what I liked about it is that I like Lonely Planet in general as I love traveling and seeing new places. The other was that I got the impression Lonely Planet is really thinking about how it does business and is trying to adjust accordingly to the changing market.

Morning plenary speakers – I’m going with the two that most made the impact on me for this session. I’m not sure if I’d call them my favorites-well, one of them very probably was-but they both challenged my thinking on the future of publishing’s business models. First up was Kevin Kelly of Wired. To some, Kelly may come across as controversial, but there’s a reason why his title at Wired is Senior Maverick.  The two most challenging statements I pulled out of his speech was the prediction that by November, Kindles will be free (such as “free with purchase of # titles”), and that publishers need to come to terms with the idea of the 99 cent novel. I can see the Kindle prediction happening, the 99 cent novel, in some cases. However, going back to Margaret Atwood’s keynote, I think part of the devaluation of digital items as something to pay for goes to the fact that tangibility has a intrinsic value in and of itself and the lack of tangibility causes perceptions of devaluation. Just a thought I’m playing with at the moment 🙂 The second plenary speaker I want to call out if Jim Fruchterman from Benetech who spoke on accessibility. This was the second session dedicated to accessibility and my librarian heart was in love. I’m putting Benetech on my list of companies to watch.

Literary Reviewing in the Digital Age – Bethanne Patrick, Ron Charles, Sarah Weinman and Bob Carlton, speakers – I wish I could have stayed for this whole session. I enjoyed listening to the discussion of the place for professional reviewers in person. I had to leave early so I could be down in time for my panel presentation which was in the next session slot. Ron Charles is as funny in person as he is in his videos 🙂

Solving the Digital Loan Problem: Can Library Lending of eBooks be a Win-win for Publishers AND Libraries? – Heather McCormack, ME!, Ruth Liebmann and Micah Bowers, speakers – I got a bit of shock the day before when I found out we were scheduled for the main stage 🙂 From everything I’ve read, the response was very positive. I was editing my speaking notes up until the moment we started 🙂 Thanks to Heather for putting the panel together and Ruth and Micah for being such wonderful co-panelists! Thank you to our audience for asking us great questions!

Because I was late getting out of my session, I was late for lunch and my afternoon was thrown a bit off kilter. I really wish I had a clone for the afternoon, as well, since there were two sessions in each of the afternoon slots that I wanted to attend. I did spend some time in the sessions of Open ,Webby Book Publishing Systems (exciting potential!), Secrets from the Underground (for Publishers) (a bit repetitive after the first few), and eReading from the eReader’s Perspective. I got into the eReading session in time for the last question from the audience, and from that little bit, I think Sarah Wendell and Jane Litte are articulate advocates for the reader with publishers.

My favorite of the evening keynotes was James Bridle’s The Condition of Music. Just go watch it.

The remainder of the night was networking and hanging out and saying good bye to friends new and old. I was very sorry to leave both the conference, and New York City the next day. Thanks again, O’Reilly and TOC, for the opportunity to speak and giving a voice to librarians!



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