For the past four years, Tools of Change has been a popular kickoff to the Frankfurt Book Fair. Now, just like that, it’s over. But despite being left in the lurch by O’Reilly, Frankfurt Book Fair officials have embraced the opportunity to continue and expand their own digital showcase: CONTEC.
“TOC was a very successful format, and we always had a very amicable partnership with O’Reilly,” said Britta Freidrich, director of events and programs at the Frankfurt Book Fair. “CONTEC is, in a sense, a continuation or extension of TOC. The topics and the target audiences are very similar. But what’s changed is the way we’ll approach these topics.”
In May of this year, Tim O’Reilly stunned the publishing world by announcing that his eponymous company was abruptly killing the Tools of Change conference. O’Reilly had built a dedicated community and a popular brand around the conference over seven years of hosting it in New York City, as well as at well-attended new editions during Frankfurt and Bologna. But while the timing of O’Reilly’s exit—just five months from the 2013 Frankfurt Book Fair— put Frankfurt officials in a bind, fair organizers were not caught flat-footed.
“There were some indications that O’Reilly would disband the TOC universe at some point, but the timing came as a surprise to us as well,” Friedrich said. “The last-minuteness of the cancellation was really our greatest challenge. But we had already developed the CONTEC format back in 2012 for Brazil and had plans to expand it internationally. We just ended up doing it a little bit sooner than expected.”
Despite the abrupt and unexpected demise of TOC, there was no doubt that a digital-focused preshow day would be held at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair—and, indeed, Friedrich says Frankfurt officials have been energized by the chance to take control of their own program. Meanwhile, CONTEC Brazil is preparing to kick off August 30.
“So much has changed in the seven years since TOC was launched, [including] both the needs of the publishing industry and the world of publishing technology,” she noted. “A new format gives us the opportunity to develop new solutions and strategies to meet the changing needs of the industry. It’s no longer about bringing together technology and publishing—these two worlds have long been intertwined. Now, it’s about using this new constellation to our best advantage.”
Friedrich said that CONTEC will build on its TOC roots but will go try to go “one logical step further.” To that end it has brought on former TOC program director Kat Meyer, who is programming the Frankfurt event. Meyer said she envisions CONTEC as something of a United Nations for the publishing industry—she wants the conference to be a place where representatives from all branches of the publishing world and various tech sectors can “come together and have serious conversation.”
According to Meyer, in the past, participants in TOC conferences frequently suggested via surveys that the events feature “more conversation, less sitting and being talked at—so we’re taking that to heart.” As such, CONTEC sessions will be more focused on “dialogue and exchange,” organizers said. While there will be keynotes and other traditional elements of TOC, there will also be “learning labs and roundtables” in place of traditional panels or lectures.
“It’s also a huge priority for us to feature new faces on the stage,” Friedrich said. “Since our goal is to give all members of the publishing ecosystem a chance to have their voices heard, we’ll be highlighting startups and small innovative companies, as well as regions and fields that were not the focus of TOC.”
For example, Friedrich said, CONTEC will feature speakers from Israel sharing their perspectives on the future of academic publishing. Porter Anderson, blogger and founder of the Ether, will share insights on self-publishing and its effects on the industry. Jill Cousins, executive director of the Europeana Foundation, will explore the future of libraries in the modern digital ecosystem. And in one of the morning keynotes, Stephen Smith, president and CEO of Wiley, will discuss the vision and path for Wiley’s transition from “traditional book publisher to globally scaled and innovative content solutions provider.”
In recent years, the Frankfurt Book Fair has shown an impressive ability to offer great programming, from its Frankfurt Academy initiative to the popular Frankfurt Sparks presentations on the show floor. Hosting its own preshow digital conference in the post-TOC world is another opportunity, Friedrich said, to live the fair’s motto: “A New Publishing Experience.”