Thursday, February 12, 2009

TOC: The Narrative Is Changing

On the final day of TOC, Tim O’Reilly gave his keynote, following on the heels of the inventive Nick Bilton from the NYT’s R&D labs. (Bilton created the interactive website for David Carr’s book.) Much of what he discussed was focused on the topic that was subsequently addressed at the next session, where a group assembled to address the big issue: The Changing Role of the Publisher. Not surprisingly, given TOC’s pursuit of the future, the only traditional publishers were Michael Hyatt from Thomas Nelson and O’Reilly himself. And even these two would hardly be considered traditional in any other setting.

All the participants argued for greater interplay between author, reader, and publisher. Eileen Gittins of claimed that the company doesn’t publish, but rather goes after “folks who’ve got stuff” that they want to share. With triple digit growth since its founding, “we’ve tacked to that part of the slipstreams and found a goldmine,” she announced. There is also an ongoing effort to get the community of folks all over the world who have money but don’t know how to publish together with those who have skills but no money: BlurbNation. Ultimately, this cross-promotion “amplifies word of mouth.” In an ambitious demonstration of that idea, Blurb worked with flickr and the Tate Modern to create a participatory show of street photography. Tate curated the work that came out of it into a book, which Blurb sold. To celebrate the participatory event, the Tate threw a party for 5,000 people.’s Bob Young basically said he planned to follow Blurb’s lead, but meanwhile he also is seeing an uptick in revenues and titles published--5,000 a week. He surmised that there has been a huge increase in people who meant to write a book and are now unemployed, so have the time. Clint Greenleaf of the Greenleaf Book Group argued that to break out of the pack, the author must create a platform, but that the credibility of work is what counts.

Like all the participants, Thomas Nelson’s Michael Hyatt Twitters, because it draws attention to what is going on at the company, and creates specialist blogs that often highlight books. A recent innovation is a book review bloggers site that allows serious reviewers to get review book

Tim O’Reilly, who published his wife’s play on Lulu, talked of the Lulu and Blurb models as publishing as a social act--a chance to share an experience. These publishers offer a combination of social networking and the creation/curation/production of books. The book is, in the Lulu sense of publishing, “a souvenir of that shared activity.” But there is much traditional publishers can learn from it. Earlier he had talked about O’Reilly’s “Rough Cut” initiative, a peer review program whose books are getting 2.5 times the revenue of books that weren’t in the program. As he said earlier, but could have reiterated to sum up the discussion, “Participation drives revenue.”

Factoid from Nick Bilton: The number of links on the Huffington Post alone in one day is 657. Multiplied by the average media consumer’s grazing, that’s 162,000 possible links in a day. “Our social networks are becoming paths to social aggregation--swarm intelligence to disseminate content flow.”


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