Tools of Change, or The Future of Publishing Isn’t What You Think It Is

January 11th, 2010 · 6 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

Today is the final day for early registration for the Tools of Change for Publishing conference, to be held in New York, February 22 – 24, 2010. Recently, there have been a lot of conferences dedicated to the magical world of digital publishing, but this is the only conference focused on looking forward.

It may be the greatest of ironies that the problems facing publishers today have nothing to do with finding people who want to read. People are reading (and writing) like never before. They’re publishing like never before. The pace of publishing innovations tells me this trend will not decline for a long time; not surprisingly, these publishing innovations are not happening in traditional venues. Now, more than ever, publishers need to think about reading, engagement, usability, research, development, experiments.

It turns out that many of publishing visionaries I know today attended the first Tools of Change Conference in San Jose, way back in 2007. I met only a few these people then — if only we’d had Twitter, oh wait, we did! — but we’ve certainly found each other since. These are the people engaged in wild experiments, some highly successful, some noble endeavors. Out of the ashes and all that.

Fast forward. Last spring, I sat through the most disheartening (and disappointing) publishing industry presentation ever. It was during the South by Southwest Interactive Festival, an event that, in the past, has inspired me and let me see germs of the future of publishing (indeed, notions explored at SXSW three years ago are starting to filter through publishing today). At the time, I was appalled that traditional book publishers had nothing to say for themselves; in retrospect, I think the people who represented the establishment truly did not get their audience. Which means they did not get their competition.

You don’t explain how traditional publishing works to a room full of publishers working in the new paradigm. Everyone was a publisher, more than a few were running very successful publishing companies. Every single person in that audience — and audience eager to hear how book publishers were moving forward — was in direct competition with traditional publishing.

I’m a fan of Tools of Change because I know the publishing industry existing within a few buildings of New York (is it six?) is a small fragment of what publishing is and can be. So much is centered around publishing print books to established outlets in the same way it’s always been done, and part of your business isn’t going away tomorrow. You are balancing books as you know them against a rising tide of change — change in purchasing habits, change in reader engagement, change in format, change in competition.

I find the best ideas often come from the least likely places, and what may not seem relevant to your business as it is, well, it might be just the spark you need for tomorrow’s idea. Your competition is not another big publisher, it’s not in the building down the street. Your competition is already doing mobile apps, already telling stories online, already engaged in full-fledged digital publishing. Your competition is a technology company, it’s a start-up in Seattle focused on storytelling for children, it’s a group of laid-off journalists forming their own news syndicate. It’s the author with her own platform, her own social network. It’s the guy whose productivity app replaces a dozen how-to books.

Books aren’t going away. Today’s business is doing…okay…but talk to me about tomorrow. If the Unicorn is announced in two weeks, are you ready? What if it ships on February 1st? Are you ready? People will be clamoring for the new device, they’ll want the best reading experience. What company is best positioned to take advantage of new computing platforms and devices? What about the next Unicorn? What about the device that empowers Africa? Asia? South America?

That’s the future of publishing.

Early registration ends today — use the discount code “toc10bosq” (yep, that’s mine!) and save $250. Join me and others as we explore concepts ranging from the very practical to the visionary. Listen to war stories and grand ideas. Let something spark. Have a glass of wine with someone doing really cool stuff in your industry.

After a few centuries of relative calm, publishing is changing rapidly. We cannot predict the future, and we cannot look to the past for clues. Today’s publishers need to run their businesses and engage in good old-fashioned R&D. It’s scary and it’s thrilling.

File Under: The Future of Publishing

6 responses so far ↓