Two weekends ago I joined colleagues at Penguin on a panel at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival. SXSW, a festival originally known for film and music, is an open source forum for new media, where bloggers, tech geeks, activists, designers and marketers meet to trade ideas. I was there in two guises: as the director of publicity for Bloomsbury and as the proprietor of the bricks-and-mortar shop Freebird Books. Entitled “New Think for Old Publishers,” our panel encouraged attendees to “find out what is going right and what is going wrong with publishing, assess success of recent forays into marketing digitally, and learn how books and blogs can work together.” But somewhere during the 5—6 p.m. time slot of SXSW Day 3, we apparently went a little off message. As one spectator Tweeted it in a lively online discussion happening simultaneously: “new think for old publishers = complete existential jackoff, zero meat.”
So for those of you who plan to organize a panel of your own in Austin next year, may I make some recommendations for what not to do:
Don't arrive on stage with only a pen and paper. It's like taking a stroll through a game hunting park in your favorite fur coat. The most familiar sight at SXSW is Macbooks and Dell laptops being unsheathed before a session. You can barely hear them powering up, but listen closely. It is the sound of your doom. Come equipped with a wireless computer of your own. Not just to monitor and respond to the backchannel chatter about you on Twitter, but to hide behind when the projectiles start heading your way.Don't answer “what's your hashtag?” with “Is that like my zodiac?” Make a concerted effort to learn the lingo. Rule of thumb: don't assume words sounding like baby talk constitute gibberish. Digg, Meebo, iFroggy and Twitter are all serious business models Wall Street is watching closely. A hashtag is a Twitter stream grouped under a specific subject—anyone can log in, comment and observe. It is also a portal to your humiliation.Don't talk like you're being interviewed by Brian Lamb. C-SPAN cannot protect you here. It's best not to speak about your timeshare on Fire Island, your three-hour lunches or your favorite Basque novel. Contrary to common belief, appearing at SXSW is not a lifetime achievement award. Keep your acceptance speech short and avoid mentioning Bennett Cerf, Nona Balakian or the Barge Bash.Don't forget to brag about real change at your company. Waving a book and saying “this is cool” will have the same effect on your audience as a pet chimp on Xanax. Registrants pay $500 to hear the latest breakthroughs in new media, and if you don't deliver with PowerPoint slide shows, videos or online demonstration,s you will be sent to the analogue dunce corner.Don't talk on about the value of dialogue and then leave no time for questions. In fact, don't talk at all. You will, of course, have Clay Shirky on your panel to serve as a human shield. Clay is an expert on new media, a proponent of social networks (or crowd sourcing), and a popular figure at SXSW. He is also the author of a successful book called Here Comes Everybody, published by Penguin. Let him speak for the industry. Because no matter how much you repeat his ideas or quote from his articles, you will still be the biggest pathetic loser in the room.Don't look for love in their eyes. Accept that we are obsolete, obstructionist and deeply in denial. If the Internet is all about the filter, we are the giant hairballs. Rock star provocateur and DIY god James Powderly won over SXSW immediately by asking the audience in his session to pose for him flipping the bird. Then he went on to show a hip-hop video. You could gift everyone an iPhone and they would just use it to Tweet what an asshole you are.Don't title your panel “New Think for Old Publishing.” Sorry, that jersey is retired. That kind of success can't be duplicated.
|Peter Miller is director of publicity for Bloomsbury and Walker & Company, and owns Freebird Books, a used bookstore in Brooklyn.|