In PW’s first trip to SXSW, we came to the Interactive portion of the days-long event in Austin wondering how best to tackle a show featuring an endless stream of panels, talks, and parties. Aside from how to cover an event this massive, we came to Texas with a more pressing question which other publishing folk who’ve attended (or considered attending) have asked: do publishing people belong at SXSW? The quick answer is yes, but not at the publishing panels.
The publishing track at SXSWi—and, for the record, everyone in the know calls the event “South By”—largely rehashed discussions and topics that crop up at other industry shows ranging from DBW to BEA. This is not to say these panels don’t have educational value—they do, but the value is for authors, and not publishing professionals. At panels ranging from ‘Care and Feeding of Blogs and Book Contracts’ to ‘Why New Authors Should Think Like Indie Bands,’ there was a pervasive “publishing 101” theme, as panelists tackled questions about the intrinsic differences between self-publishing and traditional publishing, and addressed the hurdles authors will encounter taking either path as they go about trying to market their book.
As it happens, and as some insiders told us before we came, the real meat at SXSW for people in the publishing industry is in the panels that aren’t about publishing (or at least “publishing” as we know it) at all. Some of the most interesting panels grappled with questions and struggles that other creative industries are facing, as well as the solutions those industries are testing, and questions they are asking. The fascinating aspect of SXSWi, and the thing that no other publishing industry event offers, is the ability to be around, and pick the brains of, people in these creative industries. Here you’ll learn about new apps, new software, new software companies, new theories on gaming and, all the while, wonder and ponder how these can be applied to the current publishing models and modes of storytelling. One of the most interesting threads at SXSWi was hearing about how different entertainment sectors are trying to find consumers for the content while, at the same time, they explore new ways to actually present that content.
And there were new ways aplently to think about publishing and storytelling as well as the technical infrastructure needed to support it all. For storytelling, AVadventure, an interactive storytelling group, was easily one of the more exciting narrative ventures. A multimedia storytelling performance event that uses mobile devices to bring together a variety of participants directed by a narrated, musically driven script, AVadventure has pulled off events with a handful of students on a campus or with 700 people on the mall in Washington, D.C. and is looking to collaborate with publishers or authors in the future.
If you’re not familiar with Augmented Reality, you soon will be. AR typically involves adding a “virtual layer of information over the physical reality” as seen through the viewfinder of the camera phone. AR is projected to be a $1.5 billion dollar market by 2015 and presenters Lynne Johnson and John Havens outlined a series of uses for AR, from the ability to layer pricing, restaurant reviews and advertising over the camera’s view of the world, to the use of QR Codes to cautionary tales of more ominous uses of AR in an evolving digital culture that collects more and more data about consumers and walks a wavering line of privacy concerns.
At the Mashery booth we received a lesson in the growing importance and utility of API (Application Programming Interface) management—a tool for developers that gives them the specs and permissions they need to tap into a publisher’s data feeds to create new and inventive interactive apps and new distribution and revenue channels. Mashery provides the services that make APIs work, and companies like self-publishing vendor Lulu.com—we got to chat with Lulu.com senior director of engineering and “API evangelist” Ryan Bloom and Mashery v-p, marketing Randi Barshack—use Mashery to provide analytics, social media tools and manage the whole process.
There’s also a lively local publishing scene in Austin, a town likely known more for technology startups and movie making. The Books & Bytes party brought together a group of authors and publishers in an event to show off the Austin publishing community. The party brought out visitors like PW, looking to connect with the local publishing such as longtime Austin publisher Ray Bard of Bard Press and more than a few transplanted New York book professionals, now working in publishing in Texas.
Rachel Chou, chief marketing officer at Open Road Integrated Media, who was at SXSW for the second time this year, said she focused much of her time attending panels on the film industry, which she said is facing many of the same essential worries and hurdles as the book publishing industry. The show, Chou said, "is an amazing opportunity to gain insights from mobile, gaming and film industries. It's about stepping out of the book publishing echo chamber and finding innovation that cuts across mediums."
Will Weisser, v-p and associate publisher of Portfolio, who was in Austin attending the show for the first time, said he was here to attend panels as well as work with the imprint’s authors who were on panels or hosting talks. The energy at the show, Weisser said, is undeniable, noting that “the exposure to cutting edge thinkers in media and technology was only part of the value. Even better was the chance to meet and/or reconnect with fascinating people from around the country—other publishers as well as experts in social media, web design, marketing, and other areas.”
Rusty Shelton, who runs the recently-launched, and local, interactive marketing firm Shelton Interactive (which has formed a strategic partnership with the Austin-based book publicity firm Cave Henricks Communications and organized the Books & Bytes reception), said SXSWi is exciting precisely because publishing, as we think of it in the traditional sense, is not center stage. “SXSW Interactive is a wonderful opportunity to get a front-row seat to what's next--in social media, journalism, mobile, design, marketing and publishing of all kinds, including books. We spend so much time attending events put on by the book industry, for the book industry, and SXSW Interactive is refreshing because although ‘books’ aren't the focus, it's likely that the innovations that come out of this event will play a major role in the future of publishing.”