Snow flurries in New York have forced me indoors and given me a chance to catch up on my notes from the 2010 O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing conference, which concluded yesterday after three turbo-charged days of conversation and ideas.
I’ll post detailed accounts of individual sessions, some of which are still pinging around inside my skull, but for now I thought it would be useful to provide a round-up of the big themes that asserted themselves again and again throughout the program.
If I had only one word to capture the thinking expressed at TOC 2010, it would be analytics. Real-time sales data, customer data, author data, product data. In particular, socialgraphics (data which helps us understand social networks) and e-book analytics (data collected from ebook apps and platforms about reader preferences and behaviours) were strong focal points. Driving the interest in analytics is the idea that publishers will be able to know more about their readers and communities than ever before, and this knowledge has inherent value for their businesses, and for all stakeholders in the value chain. New services and tools are now emerging to enable sophisticated analytics and companies who can leverage them will gain a strategic advantage.
Actually, I could as easily have said “standards”. Many presenters identified the awesome power of high-quality metadata 1 for e-books, with potential gains in every area from workflow to inventory management, marketing and even the development of new markets or revenue streams. Metadata goes hand in glove with analytics. It powers the tools that enable us to understand how the market is responding to our digital publishing efforts. The problem is there is no clear standardization of e-book metadata, and its use is inconsistent and often incomplete. Standards are needed in the digital supply chain, but competing business needs and interests undermine standardization efforts.
3. Fresh thinking
Yeah, sounds like a hollow platitude right? And maybe I should come up with a better title for this theme, but this really was a recurrent theme of the conference. Sometimes it was a simple motif running through keynotes, such as Skip Prichard’s exhortation to not be constrained by self-imposed limitations. For me the most knockout presentations were about individuals and companies doing non-traditional things. Like Arthur Attwell, who drew attention to the unnoticed emerging markets in Africa that hunger after easy commercial licences to deliver book content to readers in ways we haven’t even imagined, or the Pragmatic Programmers who used their utter cluelessness about publishing to bring fresh thinking to workflow and customer service, building a nimble, efficient and highly profitable publishing enterprise. Ramy Habeeb, Peter Collingridge, Richard Nash, Andy Hunter, speaker after speaker who found a market niche, a competitive advantage or an economic opportunitiy by thinking about publishing in a completely new way or from a non-traditional perspective.
For me this was the take-home message of Tools of Change. Many publishers were clearly just trying to keep up with the pace of change, trying to decide which formats/platforms/devices to support, or whether to develop an iPhone app, or how much to mess with their workflow, or how to price e-books. These are all now urgent decisions and I don’t envy companies who have get across all these issues and implement a business strategy while things are clearly still in flux.
But the shining examples of fresh thinking, of deep engagement with questions about what publishing is and what it is going to be, of commitment to not just toe-in-the water strategy by dive-in-fully-clothed new business models, convinced me these were the individuals and companies that would be setting the benchmark for us all to follow.
- Metadata is the important basic information that identifies e-books, including title, author, publisher, publication date, format but also cover image, size, comments, tags and other fields etc) ↩