Some Lessons from the Tools of Change Conference 2013: Connect/Explore/Create

This was my second time at the Tools of Change conference in New York City, hosted by O’Reilly Publishing, which fancies itself as the cutting edge of the digital publishing revolution. This conference is attended and resourced by publishers, programmers, start-ups, serial entrepreneurs, writers and web developers, among others. Some of the plenary sessions and some of the workshops I attended included the following titles:

  • Book Sprints—Zero to Books in five days
  • Upfront XHTML for workflow, not just the web
  • The challenge of distributing digital content to multiple channels
  • UX Design—user centric—for the web
  • The Direct to Consumer cycle: From Publisher and Reader and back
  • Present shock
  • Lean Publishing: The future of Publishing, for Authors and Publishers
  • Booksellers and Change
  • Information wants to be shared

The emphasis was still technology, but I also learned a lot about processes and workflow, including the fact that the best content can be created when individuals collaborate and are open about sharing their work and passions. I also recognize that as the information age becomes more sophisticated, discoverability, or the ability to be heard among a rising clamor of voices, becomes harder and requires greater sophistication to target particular groups and communities.

As I experienced last year, all media are becoming internet-centric, meaning that the primary way of creating, discovering, consuming and developing media (including feedback to creators) in the future will be on the internet. Video, visual and print are all merging in new technologies and formats, some of which will survive (“get traction”) and some of which won’t. Web pages will become book pages, will embed video and be interactive. All forms of media are blending.

Some key concepts that stood out to me over the course of three days:

  1. Booksprints. I wrote about this in my blog post last week. I feel that we at MennoMedia have much to gain from the concept of concentrated collaboration.
  2. Publish early, publish often: listen to what your readers say. More and more content creators, authors especially, are using this concept to allow readers to read their work in segments, even as they create it, allowing for instant feedback. Charles Dickens actually wrote and published this way a century and a half ago: his major novels were serialized first in periodicals. He wrote them as they were being read and even changed his plot based on reader feedback. (Downton Abbey fans take heart: imagine Matthew didn’t really die…) This process is called “iterating” and is central to “Lean Publishing” or also what they call “Real-time Publishing.”
  3. We are living in an “always on” age. We used to be told to have a dictionary at arm’s length when reading. Now the assumption is that search engines come embedded in readers and have links embedded in the content.
  4. It has to be dead simple. In the future, consumers will want to access their content on any device, at any time and place. They don’t want to have dedicated devices with dedicated uses (such as a Kindle or Nook) but want a single device (Smart Phone or Tablet) and want to own or access their content whenever, wherever. They also want to be able to purchase it easily, quickly and seamlessly. This also ties together with the concept that “access rather than ownership is the new paradigm in publishing.” So, for example, I would rather pay to stream movies via Netflix, than sort through shelves full of DVDs.
  5. “Walled Gardens” are what they call proprietary devices like the Kindle or Nook, where you are limited to particular formats of you content. The public does NOT like these.
  6. Crowd-sourcing to create content—this is not just a “wave of the future.” Doris Janzen Longacre’s wildly successful More with Less Cookbook was actually created this way 35+ years ago when she solicited and received hundreds of recipe ideas for the book.
  7. Design is visual rhetoric: we say as much through how we design and present content digitally, as what it is we are saying.

A couple more interesting facts I heard:

  1. Thirty percent of all book revenue last year came through Amazon.
  2. eBook revenues surpassed hardcover revenues last year.
  3. Print book sales seemed to have stabilized. Sales at independent bookstores were actually up (may have been a result of Borders’ demise.)
  4. Reviews read on social media sites where the users have a non-commercial purpose (such as Goodreads) are trusted above the reviews on commercial sites, such as Amazon, where there are too many “fake” reviews.

And finally, a quote from Stuart Brand, who wrote Information Wants to be Shared:

“On the one hand, information is expensive because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting each other.”

The challenge of the digital age is a matter of figuring out how to create and curate high quality content for a public that has access to more and more, with the expectation of minimal or free costs.

DSCN0625      ~Russ Eanes