The Tools of Change for Publishing Conference, November 7, 2012 in Charleston, SC
by Tom Gilson (Associate Editor, Against the Grain) <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Mini TOC (Tools of Change) Charleston more than lived up to its billing as a day of “conversation focusing on the thriving publishing, tech, and bookish-arts community.” Sponsored by O’Reilly Media’s and BiblioLabs in cooperation with The Charleston Conference, Mini TOC Charleston had something for everyone, providing a thought-provoking program along with an open forum for stimulating discussion.
Leading off the morning presentations was Rachel Fershleiser, who works on Tumblr’s outreach team and specializes in publishing, nonprofit, and cultural organizations. Rachel offered a witty and irreverent tour of social networking services, with a particular focus on Tumblr and how it can be used to develop a following and promote books, bookstores and publishing. She pointed out that Tumblr allows an opportunity for personal interaction that is very effective in getting out your message and encouraged members of the audience to give it a try.
John R. Ingram, the chairman and acting CEO of Ingram Content Group, continued the discussion but took a different tack. He focused directly on the world of publishing and claimed that in the digital world abundance and access are reshaping publishing. He pointed out that we are moving to a time of self-publishing not agents, limitless visibility as opposed to limited shelf space, production that is patron-driven, increasing reliance on print-on-demand, global rights as an opportunity not a barrier, and distribution that is no longer controllable. He also noted that these developments foster new models like digital first workflows, outsourced distribution, increased role for social networks, new revenue streams, and patron-driven acquisitions. One of John’s core messages was that readers are driving the revolution — publishers are no longer in control. Noting that there is a real need to live up to customer expectations, he insisted that publishers have to be agile and adapt to changes in the market. It is no longer a question of “either/ or.” Now the expectation is “either/and.” Maximizing reach is essential.
Brian O’Leary, founder and principal of Magellan Media, continued the emphasis on the customer with his discussion of “Lean Consumption,” a model that “minimizes customers’ time and effort by delivering exactly what they want, when and where they want it.” Brian also highlighted the shift away from a concern with “containers” like books, journal articles, etc., noting that “a viable product can be a book, a chapter, a component, an extract, a snippet — anything that can be monetized.” Citing Hugh McGuire, he observed that books and the Internet will soon merge, but he questioned whether traditional publishers would be “part of the parade.” He felt that publishers needed to understand the criteria customers use when they consume content. Pinpointing important jobs not being done and unlocking markets by eliminating barriers are also key elements in today’s environment. Being a gatekeeper trying to define culture will no longer work. In short, rather than trying to apply traditional publishing models to the new networked environment, “what we need to do is apply the networked models to our business.” He noted that although publishing in this networked environment means lowering barriers to the creation of content, it also “amplifies the return for content providers who can leverage two-way communication and create, refine, and evolve content products around the needs of the readers they serve.” Brian elaborated on this by saying that publishers should use their content to “build and serve communities of like interest.” His final admonition was that publishers can “resist the change, buying time and, perhaps, some short-term wins. Or we can learn the new rules and prepare for the opportunities inherent in networked publishing.”
The last presentation of the morning was a panel discussion featuring Peter Brantley, Director of the BookServer Project at the Internet Archive; Simon Bell, Head of Strategic Partnerships and Licensing at the British Library; and Michael Gorrell, Executive Vice President of Technology, and Chief Information Officer of EBSCO Publishing. They offered three different perspectives on the topic “Libraries in the 21st Century: Discussion on the Role of Librarian as Curator.” However, there seemed to be one area of agreement. Major libraries will continue to digitize legacy collections. It was also noted that the European Union has a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to make available of out-of-commerce works including books and learned journals in library collections, thus putting the library front and center in doing the digitization. But enabling all of this will require new business models like the one between the British Library and BiblioLabs that enables access to the Library’s 19th-century book collection. However, Peter Brantley pointed out that extended collective licensing laws similar to the EU’s are seen as violating fair use in the U.S. and are opposed by the Library Copyright Alliance. Michael Gorrell continued the discussion by noting that there was a definite role for discovery and curation and that EBSCO found itself in the middle between publishers, libraries, and patrons trying to provide content. But Peter Brantley questioned whether we should accept these current roles and later urged libraries to take a more aggressive part in the digital transition. Simon Bell discussed the British Library and its strategic partnerships, particularly the partnership with BiblioLabs. He also commented on the Finch Report, which authorized open access in the UK, and its impact on publishing scholarly content. Michael Gorrell noted that discoverability is still a problem. He wondered how users will get access to all this content and pointed to the continuing need for more metadata to enable discoverability.
The afternoon lead off with a session entitled “Device Agnostic and Sharing Content Across Platforms” featuring Travis Alber, founder of ReadSocial, and Liza Daly, VP, Engineering at Safari Books Online. One of the first things to emerge was that cross platform was not that relevant. To quote one of the speakers, “It’s all the Web.” It was agreed that instituting mobile access is complicated and that making it seamless is still difficult. Liza Daly noted that making user interface simple is key and that “feature creep” was a problem. The building of communities was seen as necessary, but you also needed content. Barriers like DRM only stand in the way.
Richard Nash of Small Demons and Jan Wright, owner of Wright Information Indexing Services, continued the discussion. Richard started by describing Small Demons, a new Web service that collects and catalogs thousands of references to music, movies, people, and objects mentioned inside of books. He noted that they use algorithms to connect hundreds of details inside books and, thus, highlight multiple metadata points within “the world of culture.” Jan Wright described the far more traditional work of the American Society of Indexing but agreed that there was very much a need for metadata. She pointed out the value of precision using metadata versus mere recall or “search.” She noted the increasing value of detailed indexing that created metadata at the paragraph level to create chunks of information with the possibility of monetizing access.
Traditional publishers received some bad news from Mark Coker of Smashwords and author Larry Downs. First they noted that today’s disruptive technology can destroy traditional industries like publishing. Mark maintained that the economics of publishing were being turned upside down by the advent of eBooks and self-publishing. Before this, publishers had control of the entire process. But now the printing press is free, distribution is democratized, and the knowledge of how to publish is out there on the Web. According to Larry Downs, the publisher doesn’t add very much, if any, value. He also maintained that format and length are no longer relevant and the supply chain is broken. The only thing left for publishers is brand value, but even that is under threat. The author is becoming the brand. Added to this, self-publishing is no longer seen as vanity press. In fact, traditional publishers are poaching successful self-publishers.
Joanna Rahim, Director of The Galton Lab, and Frances Pinter, founder of Knowledge Unlatched, ended the day with a session moderated by Mitchell Davis of BiblioLabs. Their presentation introduced the concept of “co-opetition,” where competitors get together to create a market. Once again, they pointed to the example of the British Library cooperating with BiblioLabs on an application providing access to titles from the British Library’s 19th-century book collection. Frances Pinter also talked about the cooperative efforts undertaken by Bloomsbury with numerous stakeholders to bring the Churchill Archive online. But the main thrust of her comments focused on Knowledge Unlatched, a three-year pilot project where libraries come together to pay title fees to publishers in exchange for open access publication of selected high-quality titles. Publishers offer the titles and set the title fees, while libraries select, order, and pay the fees. Knowledge Unlatched acts as the middle man negotiating with publishers, collating titles, handling payment, and addressing preservation issues. The hoped-for result is a financially sustainable model for publishers and libraries that provides open access to scholarly books for end users.
Cutting edge, challenging, and sometimes controversial, Mini TOC Charleston left everyone with a lot to consider. True to its promise, it engaged librarians, large and small publishers, self-published authors, online experts, and other information professionals in a far-ranging consideration of the future of commercial publishing. And, fortunately, it left organizers talking about plans for an even bigger and better Mini TOC Charleston in 2013.
Leah was appointed Executive Director of the Charleston Conference in 2017, and has served in various roles with the Charleston Information Group, LLC, since 2004. Prior to working for the conference, she was Assistant Director of Graduate Admissions for the College of Charleston for four years. She lives in a small town near Columbia, SC, with her husband and two kids where they raise a menagerie of farm animals.