Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Reflections on the IDPF & BISG Conferences

Reflecting on last week’s conferences it was interesting to recall that Michael Healy was a little concerned that scheduling the IDEP annual meeting the day before the BISG sponsored Making Information Pay would limit the participation at the latter. As it turned out, anyone who attended both meetings benefited from the combination of themes and the opportunities to network. At IDEP the attention (glamour) was on handheld e-readers as it was last year. In fact there was some redundancy versus last year; however, it was a European presentation of a combo device that seems to offer the best answer to my big gripe, why a dedicated device?

Later in the day we heard from content providers, content distributors and content users all of which supported the BISG meeting the following day. Perhaps the most troubling news came at days end when the Associated Press reported that no one under 50 saw print newspapers as their primary source of news and that the average user spent less that one minute per day with online newspapers (including nytimes.com). It was noted that CNN did a far better job than other news sources because their content was more open, included more video and limited dead end pages which further encouraged interaction with content.

Sitting in the bleachers it is easy to toss stones at what we heard publishers are doing in an online world. The most troubling thing seems to be that we still don't really know what we should, could or will offer our customers in the online world. One e-content presenter proudly noted 'price' as the key driver of purchase behavior by their customers. Customers driven by price are flirtatious and flighty and will always be on the look out for a better deal. This statistic seems to indicate no engagement in the content at all by the customer, which is troubling given all the opportunity for interaction that e-content and e-delivery can afford.

The early morning presentation from Hachette on the state of e-publishing and the reasons for getting stuck in was devoid of relevancy. The same presentation could have been delivered three years ago when it would have been viewed with interest. Universally missing is the vision of what published content will look like (and represent) in 5 or 10 years time. We are all guilty of using the e-book term and I have to believe we are in an evolutionary phase that will lead to some new species that we can't quite as yet see. Not 'e' nor 'book' perhaps? Aside from Google, the best e-publishing initiatives underway are promotion and marketing driven. This is not a criticsm because what Random House and Harpercollins are doing to use the internet, their data warehouses of content, widgets and other things are important steps towards closer interaction between the content producer and the customers. At the moment these are not so much content plays as marketing and promotion activities.

In retrospect, the panel discussions could have benefited from some of the work that the Future of the Book has done to show publishers their experimentation with content creation and display/interaction. This work is hugely interesting but possibly unknown to the majority of publishers. Admittedly the BISG focus was on Making Information Pay but the speakers tended to exceed the bounds of this title. Some extrapolation regarding where they thought publishing may go and some of the experiments underway would have been interesting.

In a way it was almost predictable that industry badboy O'Reilly Media made an indelible mark as the capstone on the meeting. Tim O'Reilly is hosting a Tools of Change conference on the future of publishing in San Jose next month and has stated that while most publishers are in New York all the e-publishing action is in California so that's why the conference is out there.

Granted, he may be less politic but in a basically canned presentation, Allan Noren from O'Reilly was able to forcefully emphasize the distance O'Reilly have traveled down the e-publishing road. Even a simple statistic drew instant reaction from the audience regarding the increase in international sales as a result of placing a pdf download button on the purchase page. The other presentations drew interest but not an immediate reaction like this one. O'Reilly has also led in the atomization of their content and seems to take pride in how they continue to push the envelope. The company recently added pdf downloads, read on-line, chapters and a permissions link. All represent evolutionary changes, but Noren coached the audience to digitize, make content ubiquitous and reduce the barriers to purchase.

Noren's parting comment was to approach e-content and e-retailing like a beginner because as such we have no preconceived notions of how things should be. We can innovate, adapt, change and innovate again without jealousy. This thought seems to support the notion that we must eradicate the conjunctive 'e-book' - but with what? - and create some new species of 'book'.

As I mulled over the content of the conferences last week, the thought that Ulysses (Joyce) was in many ways the first multimedia book. Sure it is printed on paper, but think about how the mind of Bloom represents an integration of audio, video, and text making Dublin come alive for the reader. What a fascinating project it would be to lend real life to the Newspaper headlines, the trolley cars and even the sounds of Dedalus peeing on the beach. Joyce approached authorship like a beginner; hopefully the next person to do so won't get banned.

BISG Conference Presentations
IDPF Presentations


Mike Shatzkin said...

You know, I have no problem looking for a better something than just an ebook; something better enabled by new technology is always welcome. But why smart people (like you) dismiss the idea that having straight narrative immersive text in a handheld device has real advantages is hard for me to understand. I read four books in my Palm for every one in paper, and that's strictly based on convenience (and on a roughly equivalent user-experience). Why am I so unusual?

MC said...

That's a fair point and perhaps I am guilty of over enthusiasm. Also, it is doubtful you are unusual given the gutenburg project download numbers: http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Main_Page