In about two weeks, I, along with a couple thousand or so of my closest friends, will be attending the 2013 Tools of Change for Publishing conference in New York. As you may have guessed, recently I’ve felt I haven’t had much to add to the digital publishing conversation. In many ways — while I know there has been exciting innovation — I’ve felt like we’ve been at a standstill.
(Or, to misquote my friend Eoin Purcell, publishers feel like they have this whole digital thing sorted. Done and done.)
Of course, if you’ve been paying attention (and I know you have), you know there is a lot of innovation happening outside the world of traditional publishing. And, to be honest, inside of traditional publishing, though I would characterize many of those experiments as baby steps instead of bold initiatives. Perhaps this is how it should be.
What I mean is that it is hard to run your core business while transforming part of it into an R&D operation. Particularly when “the future” is something nobody can define. Unless, ahem, you happened to spend a very long weekend with a 19-month old and her iPad. Then you have a clear picture of where the world of story is going, and the expectations that generation will have.
But that’s not what I want to talk about today. I am very excited to once again attend TOC (and the If Book Then conference in Milan in March). I am thrilled about participating in Kevin Smokler’s Books at the Block Party: The Economics and Outcomes of a Local Literary Economy panel, a panel that also features Dan Blank, Stephanie Anderson, and Rachel Fershleiser. We’ll be talking about the physical, face-to-face aspect of our bookish culture.
What excites me even more is the Startup Showcase on Wednesday, February 13, 2013. Every year, Kat Meyer and the rest of the TOC team bring us cutting edge companies doing amazing things in the world of publishing. These companies are the future.
And I’d like to highlight one company in particular: Paperight. I’ve spoken and written about Paperight more than a few times in the past couple of years because it still blows my mind.
We talk about publishing, particularly here in the United States, as if it is something we can take for granted. As Arthur Atwell, the brains behind Paperight demonstrated, in places like sub-Saharan Africa, there is a serious challenge in getting reading material to people who desperately want it. Local bookstores, much less Amazon, aren’t even potential solutions.
Atwell and his team instead utilize existing infrastructure to deliver reading material to readers. And by “existing infrastructure”, I mean telephone lines and copy shops. Customers purchase legal, low-cost books. Publishers and authors get paid. Information is shared. Goals are accomplished.
This is genius. This is important. This is innovation in publishing. I applaud every publisher and author who participates in Paperight. Nothing excites me more than the possibility to spread the joy of reading to people!
I know the TOC schedule is jam-packed with amazing sessions, but I hope you make the time to attend the Startup Showcase. More than a few friends are presenting their innovations (The Holocene and Valobox are two other standouts) and I think you’ll be as inspired as I am by their work.
And…I think you’ll have your entire perspective changed by what Paperight is doing.