Open Letter To The (Book) Publishing Industry

March 12th, 2007 · 21 Comments
by Kassia Krozser


Where are you? We have been in the lovely city of Austin (the sun is shining, the grackles are, well, one doesn’t need to discuss the private functions of birds) since Thursday and haven’t seen you anywhere. We have gone so far as to take the rather rude step of reading nametags rather than looking our fellow humans in the eye.

It’s about creating content, melding content with technology, expanding the story beyond traditional boundaries.

South by Southwest, the interactive festival, is in full swing. Already, the panel sessions are cram-packed with innovators looking for the next Next Big Thing. Nay, many of the attendees at this year’s festival are already riding that wave that we call The Future. We have representatives from music, motion pictures, gaming, all manner of web technologies. We have content creators and producers and aggregators. We have those whose DIY genes overlap with corporate souls.

What we don’t have is a coterie of publishing house representatives. This is bad, dear publishers, very bad. What is happening on the ground in this fair city in Texas is what you will pay consultants big bucks to execute in two years. You, dear publishers, will be reacting to a menu of buzzwords and must-do action items that, we suspect, will make little to no sense, but you will be leaping into action regardless. Because you are told you must.

Though we certainly hope it is already happening — given that the trend is well into its fourth year — you will hold meetings about community and building community and retaining community and the future of publishing and how you can really differentiate yourself in a fragmented world. These topics have been part of the SXSW conversation for some time…to the point where the more complex questions of identity management are not abstracts but areas for debate.

The publishers of the world cannot afford to miss events like this. We grant you that the SXSW organizers haven’t done their best job when it comes to marketing to you. That is no excuse on your part. You keep assuring us that you are on the ball, that you get the Internet. Yet when the chance arrives to actually be part of what’s happening now, or even to chime in when the question of the future of the book is asked (and it has been asked several times already, not to mention an entire panel devoted to the topic).

It seems to us that you would want to be in the room when people are asking these critical questions. It seems to us that you’d have something to say on this topic. It seems to us that you’d want to share your own innovations and soak up possible new directions.

There is much discussion on new ways to tell stories. What works and doesn’t work in today’s universe. Multi-format storytelling. Cross-platform storytelling. Mixing words and sounds and pictures to extend the story beyond the book. Mixing fiction and reality in the blogosphere and beyond. Story is very important this year at SXSWi.

It’s an idea that has been building for years. Mixed in with the idea of story is the idea of content ownership, especially in a collaborative or user-generated environment, combatting piracy in innovative ways (you could, if you were here dear publishers, learn that the gaming community is thinking hard on this issue and have creative thoughts on the matter), and building and retaining passionate audiences.

We are also hearing that there is a great clamoring for writers in this online world of the future. Everyone wants good writers, few can find them. It’s sort of like there are shoppers streaming into the market, but nary an item to buy.

You say that you are not technical, and we understand. The truth is that being technical is not a requirement. We are really dealing with, here in Austin, using technology to achieve goals now and in the future. We imagine there are some sessions dealing with the arcana of code writing, but mostly it’s about important things like creating content, melding content with technology, expanding the story beyond the boundaries of traditional media.

You know, those things that will make your future so much easier?

We realize it’s too late for you to hop on a plane and hightail it to Austin, what with all the hotels in vicinity being booked to brimming and the conference possibly being even more booked. But there is always next year (and this year’s podcasts, as they become available). This is not a conference that says, “Book publishing industry, this session is for year”. Instead, the message is far more subtle: book publishing industry, let’s all think creatively.



[tags]sxswi, south by southwest interactive, sxsw, publishing[/tags]

File Under: The Future of Publishing

21 responses so far ↓

  • James Bridle // Mar 12, 2007 at 6:13 am

    Wish I was there. I’m a small publisher in the UK and if we could stump up the air fare I’d be there in a flash.

    The lack of future discussion is kind of terrifying in our industry, and thanks for shouting about it. I went to the Future of Web Apps conference in London a few weeks ago, and I was the only print person there, let alone book person… They were baffled by me too…

  • SusanGable // Mar 12, 2007 at 7:52 am

    Sounds interesting, Kas. Can’t wait to hear all about it when you get back.

    Oh, and are you shocked at the dearth of publishing folks? Appalled, I get, but surprised?

    I’ve been thinking for a while about how cool it would be if my books came with sound tracks, and clickable links, and cool stuff like that. So much that could be added to a “book” if it were more multi-media. It could be an even richer experience.

    And who are these people looking for writers? Writers want to know. Especially if they’re paying markets. (s)

  • Richard Nash // Mar 12, 2007 at 8:30 am

    Me too! (James and I think alike, sometimes 😉
    The hassle is that they’re not just not marketing, they’ve been deeply in bed other music and film for eons. Ironically, last year, the Asssociated Writing Programs Conference was in Austin the weekend before SXSW, but the overlap extended solely to going to see friends’ bands play.

    SXSW won’t likely respond to a few indie presses saying, can we have a panel please? And if a few corporate folks want to get on board, we’ll also get shut out.

    So, basically, you’re completely and utterly right, but the folks with money and leverage don’t bother, and the people who’d love to do it, have neither money, nor leverage, nor time 🙁

  • jeremy ettinghausen // Mar 12, 2007 at 3:21 pm

    Hello *waves from Austin* – I’m lucky enough to be here and hope to return to London with some interesting ideas to explore. I’ve been blogging about SXSW at and more will follow. If anyone wants to hook up with an olde-worlde book publisher I’ll be at the Do Books Have a Future panel at 10am Tuesday.
    Jeremy Ettinghausen, Penguin UK

  • Scott DiPerna // Mar 12, 2007 at 4:46 pm

    Sepulculture Books is at SXSW, promoting Dr. Sketchy’s Official Rainy Day Colouring Book. That is to say, I am here.

    There are a lot of book publishing folks at SXSW — they just aren’t exhibiting. Knopf and Vintage Books have 3 people down here, and even co-sponsored a party last night at the Austin City Limits Sound Stage with the band Voxtrot. Authors Neal Pollack (ALTERNADAD), Will Schwalbe and David Shipley (SEND), all spoke on panels at the conference, and Vintage Books was promoting Dan Gilbert’s STUMBLING ON HAPPINESS (he spoke at SXSW last year), Walter Kirn’s THE UNBINDING, and Tom McCarthy’s REMAINDER. As a matter of fact, I have been at SXSW for the past 3 years representing Vintage Books. There just isn’t a need to have a big booth in the exhibition hall.

  • Kassia Krozser // Mar 12, 2007 at 4:57 pm

    Scott, Jeremy — I stand (almost) corrected. I hope to catch up with you all at tomorrow’s panel — I’ll be the one who looks like she seriously needs that extra hour of sleep.

    I agree that there isn’t a need for a big exhibition…but, boy, would I like to hear from a more diverse crowd on the future of books. Mostly out of a sense of perversity, I’ve been attending all the “future” panels and they’ve been a good mix of small, independent ventures and big names.

    But you know me, never happy with anything…complain, complain, complain.

    Richard — I think that this particular crowd would be more open to a really good panel from indie publishers, but I also think that it would be good for more publishers to attend from the perspective of learning what’s new and useful in technology. The conversations aren’t just for geeks. I’ve been coming here for four years and tend to find more to write about for Booksquare (and, obviously, Medialoper) than about new ways to use technology in my own business.

    SG — Everywhere I turn, people are talking about seeking writers. If I hear of something that falls into your arena, I’ll send the info your way. But think about it: games, blogs, etc all need writers. In many ways, the art of the story is having a revival. Which is so cool.

    Now off to drink on Nick Denton’s dime!

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  • Don Linn // Mar 13, 2007 at 11:05 am

    Richard, et al…

    Money aside, I think lack of access is a red herring. We just need to go next year and make some contacts AND some noise. Places like TED and SXSW are going to be this industry’s salvation in terms of technology, creativity and marketing. I would venture to say that money would be better spent at SXSW just roaming around than hosting a booth at BEA. And I’m appalled at myself for not going.

  • Kassia Krozser // Mar 13, 2007 at 11:44 am

    Don — you’re right about getting here and making contacts and noise. I’d also strongly recommend looking into O’Reilly’s upcoming TOC (Tools of Change for Publishing) Conference:

    I agree that just roaming the halls at SXSW is a far better experience than exhibiting at BEA, but BEA is simply just too massive, too fragmented to offer the direct kind of dialogue that publishers need to have to move into the future gracefully.

    More thoughts to come as I digest this morning’s The Future of Books session!

  • David Thayer // Mar 13, 2007 at 5:31 pm

    K2, Wow, any group of people that wants writers is okay in my book. It was only part of your delightful essay that I understood other than the Austin part:
    I think Red Neck Mother was written there.

  • Brenda Coulter // Mar 13, 2007 at 6:29 pm

    Sheesh, Kassia. How about throwing out my first comment and letting me have another go?

    I meant to comment on this post, but David’s comment knocked whatever I was going to say clean out of my mind.

    As it happens, a little while ago I dialed my iPod to a couple of old Jerry Jeff Walker albums–”The Best of…” and “Viva Terlingua”–which means that “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother” came up on the playlist. As soon as I read David’s comment, I remembered that the song had been written by Ray Wylie Hubbard in the early 70’s, and I figured it probably was written in or near Austin. With ol’ Scamp Walker getting me all nostalgic about the old days of the Austin music scene (back in the days before Austinites realized it was cool to be weird), I Googled and found this hilarious video of Hubbard recounting how he came to write the song.

    Y’all click on over there.

    (Sorry, Booksquare. You can have your blog back now.)

  • Kassia Krozser // Mar 13, 2007 at 8:17 pm

    Sorry, babe, but I okayed A before B was here. Do you really want A deleted? It’s gone and only you and me and the world knows about it. I am one lame moderator (but I only moderate the ones with links, but that’s before certain UK publishers try to bribe bloggers with booze).

    Thanks for giving the blog back…what ever am I to do with it (g)?

  • Kassia Krozser // Mar 13, 2007 at 8:21 pm

    David, I have done research and the ones seeking writers are, well, hot chicks in low-cut tops. Surely not what you’re looking for, being a professional writer and all.

    Okay, fine, hint. The burgeoning gaming industry is desperately seeking writing talent. Story is (as we’ve all suspected) king and queen and pawn. Story is, as we’ve all suspected, the key to Web 2.1. Really, truly, honestly.

  • Brenda Coulter // Mar 14, 2007 at 6:41 am

    No, no, Booksquare–you did great. My first comment had a weird typo and a bad link. You did print the second one, so thanks.

    I should add, for those of you who are clicking over to watch the video, that the unidentified good ol’ boy Ray Wylie tells his story to is none other than Jerry Jeff Walker, who popularized the song.

  • Joan Kelly // Mar 14, 2007 at 7:30 am

    Hot chicks in low cut tops seeking writers… Sounds more interesting than the copywriting job I had for a month a while back. No hard feelings to hot chicks or low-cut-top-wear-ers, but I’m wary about them as a paying market. I used to know lots of hot chicks in latex who wanted writers, but their hot-chick-ness had convinced them *they* were doing the writers a favor, not owing the writers a fee for services rendered. What’s a lazy wannabe sell-out to do…

  • David Thayer // Mar 14, 2007 at 8:51 am

    Brenda, a marvelous job of research on the fly. Kicking hippie’s asses and raising hell impresses hot chicks in low cut tops probably more than a writing sample. Good thing I have my Jane Fonda workout tape with LA Freeway for those adverb crunches.

  • Kassia Krozser // Mar 14, 2007 at 9:05 pm

    It is lovely research — now, normally, I frown upon actual research as it sets a higher-than-desired standard for the site, but I’m willing to make exceptions.

    As for these hot chicks, well, at least they were serious about their work. Unlike some people who work for this site (g).

  • Don Miles // Mar 16, 2007 at 3:04 pm

    I’ve lived in Austin for more than 20 years, and many of the book industry people seem not to notice that we exist. Even a local agent won’t bother to use my SASE to tell me “no.” The “how-to” books say to get a New York City agent, so I got one and he spent a year approaching 33 publishers before throwing in the towel. I’ve just received the complete Spanish translation of my book, and would love to find an agent or publisher who’d take it seriously, but those people seem to be in their own little world. If anyone’s interested, check out my website at and let me know.

  • Julie Miller // Mar 17, 2007 at 3:25 pm

    Hey there Kassia,

    I’m not sure how you missed us, but Apress and friends of ED were exhibiting at SXSWi — booths A11 and A12. And not to pimp my competition, but there were multiple other publishers in the expo hall as well — New Riders, Focal, Make (part of O’Reilly), and a few film-oriented publishers. Maybe you were in the wrong expo hall (there was a small hall devoted to gaming), but the publishing community was there, in force, in Expo Hall D. We’ll be there again next year, so make sure you look for us!

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