Monday, March 16, 2009

Book Publishers Are Scarce at SXSW

Book publishers--and agents--are scarce at SXSW’s Interactive Festival, and when they do show up, they’re not always treated with love and respect (see Booksquare's "New Think? Not So Much"), but at worst it’s a love-hate relationship between the digital crowd and the page turners. At best--and there is a bright side--it’s because this crowd (about 9,000 of them) loves books and wants publishers to do with them what digital creatives have been able to do to movies, music, comics, art, games, and many other aspects of life--enhance it in ways that makes it smarter, more intuitive, faster, more responsive.

The few publishers at SXSW include several from Penguin, which hosted an inadvertently raucous panel that pitted a group of publishers against an angry crowd of bloggers, authors, and digerati. The panel included Clay Shirky and Bloomsbury’s Peter Miller as well as the two Penguins, Ivan Held and John Fagan, who--to give them credit--chose to come to Austin because they knew they should engage with this group. In the audience were a few others, including Taunton’s Don Linn. Several more are also at SXSW, but given the amount of book talk here, it's amazing what a disconnect there is between the book talk and the book publishers present. Nate Silver, in his interview with Stephen Baker (The Numerati), mentioned Irrational Exuberance and Nixonland. Silver is also writing (okay, he admitted, still outlining) a book for, ironically, Penguin Press. A panel of teenagers assembled by Anastasia of Ypulse revealed that, despite being obsessed with iPhones, Xboxes, and MySpace/Facebook, they are readers too--Stephen King, J. D. Salinger, Watchmen, Joe Haldeman--all read as p- or e-books, depending on where they can get them fast and free.

There are also dozens of author signings, right in the middle of the trade show, where B&N has set up a ministore. Oh, and lots of authors, including Jeff Howe, Chris Rettstatt, Guy Kawasaki, Sloane Crosley--in a range of categories, from fantasy, business, marketing, to futurist, and humor books--have long lines of fans.

But the point is not just that there are books are readers here in Austin; the point is that there are creative people who are blogging, tweeting, composing, developing, and conceptualizing in a remarkable variety of areas that could both inform publishing and out of which brilliant and marketable books could emerge. Why isn’t the book world in this glorious playpen?

If you are a book publisher who's at SXSW this year, let us know in the comments.


Anonymous said...

It's long been understood that hipsters don't buy books, they just look at the covers. See St Marks Books store front table.

Anonymous said...

Nate Silver also mentioned Black Swan, though you could argue that that's become as much of a concept as a book.
He also said that he didn't care if people read his entire book. That's something that I'm beginning to come to grips with: There's a certain community of people around The Numerati, but only a fraction of them read the book, much less buy it. Some read a chapter, some read a review, listen to a podcast, visit the blog, etc. So, there were lots of people at SXSW who are plugged into books in one way or another. But not all of them read them. --Stephen Baker (The Numerati)

Anonymous said...

As a children's book geek who just spent four exhilarating days at SXSWI, I would add:

a) not sure whether this is more of a hipster or geek crowd, but they are talking about books with the kind of infectious passion that makes you want to go out and buy a book--whether or not they've read the whole thing.

b) while not every word spoken here was a pearl of wisdom, there were some fascinating ideas; great advice for small (and large) businesses; and a can-do spirit of American bootstrap entrepeuneurism sprinkled throughout.

Elbert Hubbard and the Roycrofters would have fit in perfectly, and I bet Ursula Nordstrom would have had a blast.

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