Today was the long session day at Tools of Change, with all day tracks in E-books, Print on Demand, XML and Social Networking/Community building. I believe the idea is to present a fairly comprehensive picture of what steps a publisher who is new to one of these technologies needs to take to get moving. I sat in a bit of the ebook and community building sessions, maybe a half hour each, and I accomplished my goal of not asking disruptive questions.
Listening to the questions posed by others, it's clear that many trade employees are still fixated on the technology (and it many cases, that may be their job function) while other are questioning the big picture - ie, can we make a living doing this sort of stuff. I'd written recently about the inability of large trades to scale down to a leaner Internet/ebook heavy model in order to survive, and about those publishers who trip over technology or spend big dollars for little results. The advertising aimed at publishers in magazines shows they are still buying expensive Content Management Systems (CMS) and vertical integration with XML. A new workflow solution may make sense if you're dumping your old system anyway, but it won't buy you an online presence. There's just no way to automate experience and intent, and taxonomies belong in libraries, not websites. Readers may notice I don't even bother tagging this blog. That's because I figure Google does a better job figuring out what I'm trying to say than I do.
It's hard to get a vibe from a crowd, unless they're burning cars and waving signs, but I got the feeling that the economic climate has publishers very worried, accelerating a loss of control that began with the rise of the B&N and Borders chains and has morphed into a world of Amazon and Google. Publishers once occupied a unique and enviable position in the information and entertainment world, at the center of a tightly knit group of retailers, distributors and trade organizations. Today, if Amazon and Google aren't yet calling the shots, they are at least making it clear that the trade publishers don't either. One fashionable reaction to all of this is declaring that the customer is the only one who should be calling any shots, but the examples of this working for a publisher are at best anecdotal, and at worst, thought-leader fantasies. As some guy in some movie should have yelled, "Show me the tax return".
Speaking of intent, I came to listen but I spent most of my time talking outside the sessions. While this means that a whole new crop of people who have never seen my videos can be sick of my voice, a big thank you to Lynn Scanclon who did recognize my voice from a video and came over to say "Hi" rather than punching me in the mouth. I try not to wash my dirty soul in public, but I'm beginning to suspect that I'd rather listen to myself talk than listen to presentations. Must be all the $^%# blogging taking effect! In any case, I hope to catch the train back in for Wednesday and attend some of the small sessions, so if any of you see me there, remember the no punching thing.