O’Reilly TOC Conference Reprise

Look alive, publishers! The publishing industry is moving so fast that it is at risk of becoming a spectator sport.

The latest O’Reilly Tools of Change (TOC) Conference was held in New York City February 21-24. This year’s TOC focused almost exclusively on the production, distribution, marketing, and legal protection for books in digital format. It’s important to note that the focus of digital books is shifting to include an enhanced user experience (note, “user,” not just “reader”). 

Text only trade books have been easily converted to digital format for years. There are currently some two dozen digital book reading devices and multiple computer applications designed to duplicate the print book reading experience we all grew up with. What reasons are there to wean people away from print if it’s only a duplication of the effort? That’s what TOC was all about.

It was noted that the 8 to 18 year-old demographic spends 7.5 hours a day in front of some sort of electronic device: computer, TV, game console, mobile phone. These people don’t care “how it’s always been done.” Furthermore, publishers, they control your destiny. There is no fundamental right to survive, so what limitations are you putting on your own company that shouldn’t be there?

Surveys have been conducted among heavy users of eBook readers. Fully 75% were found to believe that publishers do not care about them. By this is meant that readers notice those typos left behind by inadequate quality checks, missing tables of contents, and inaccurate metadata. Mobile devices have become a life accessory and people are taking them quite seriously.

Integrating an eBook with the Internet

There are some serious advantages to having books “in the cloud.” Among them are that books become updatable and interactive, and you can add all kinds of multimedia. The potential disadvantage is that readers are not always able to maintain a direct link to the Internet. This can usually be accommodated by caching the files locally but permitting updates when they become available.

Macmillan US’ DynamicBooks is a case in hand.  Teachers can customise a textbook to the point of re-writing it, adapting it to their teaching style by for instance editing an explanation or re-arranging and deleting chapters to better suit their students’ course. Textbooks are stored online as eBooks so there are no version issues: both the teacher and their students access the most recent version of the book via the Internet.  Although the freedom this gives to teachers has already raised a few concerns – as some commentators have noted, there’s more than a whiff of Wikipedia about it – the technological side of it is almost certainly a harbinger of the future.

Tim O’Reilly (above), founder of O’Reilly media and guru of the digital era, had a message for publishers: “Create more value than you capture.”  Publishers looking to heed his words are likely to start moving in this kind of direction fairly swiftly.

Jim Link

Business Technology Strategist, MPS North America


Photos courtesy of James Duncan Davidson.  To see all the photos from this year’s conference, please visit the Flickr page here


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