O’Reilly Media executives were hoping for a lively dialogue between panelists and the audience at the first-ever Tools of Change executive roundtable held at Random House’s New York City headquarters Monday, and a healthy exchange of ideas is what they got. Panelists Brian O’Leary of Magellan Media and author Eric Ries both discussed ways the publishing industry can make the transition from print to digital and, in the phrasing of O’Leary “find the opportunity in abundance.”

While both discussed the challenges that lay ahead, the two said those hurdles are not impossible for the industry to overcome. In fact, after listening to the morning session, Ries observed that things don’t sound that bad for book publishing at all. “What’s the problem,” Ries said, “opportunities come during a transition, not afterwards.” He noted that in preparing to write his book, The Lean Startup, published by Crown Business, he talked to a wide number of people. Some gave him advice about the way things have always worked and others about the way things could work in the future, but neither group, he said, talked about what is happening now. O’Leary addressed that theme as well, noting that there is lots to do as the digital transition unfolds. He noted that the industry is in a blended format phase, offering both digital and print content, a phase the presents a host of issues throughout the supply chain. New rules need to be developed in different parts of the supply chain are to work together going forward since the transition will mean that there will be winners and losers. “You can’t use old supply chain rules for the new digital order,” O’Leary said.

He advocated the creation of a “super” organization that could bring all facets of the industry together to invest in research to find out what is going on in the marketplace and in help to drive change. That suggestion met with some resistance from invited guests. Bill McCoy of the IDBF, said that he would rather see individual companies deal with the issues and Ries agreed, saying he would rather see lots of different digital experiments, while at the same time is publishers was aggressively “killing it” to grab more market share. Others noted that organizations like the AAP and BISG are constrained from facilitating too much collaboration by numerous government laws.

O’Leary said the digital transition would be made easier if different parties were willing to share data and operating in a spirit of transparency. A growing sales pie would also help, O’Leary noted and one way to try to achieve that is to ensure that the “immersive reading” habit doesn’t erode. A number a people in the audience agreed that encouraging reading in schools as well as finding ways to teach reading better was a key to the future.

Part of Ries’ remarks dealt with his experiences in publishing his book and he explained how, starting a year ahead of publication, he managed to personally generate 10,000 pre-orders through his Web site. Ries said publishers need to do “build measure learn” to create content that people will buy. He said there is nothing wrong with creating a direct-to-consumer channel, observing even if that channel represented only a small portion of overall sales it could still provide a great way for publishers to learn about what their customer want.

He called the current publishing marketplace a “tournament system” where the winners do very well, but others are left behind. He urged publishers to take more control over their intellectual property as a way to reassert some leverage in the market.

The executive roundtable helped to kickoff this year's Tools of Change conferernce which runs through Wednesday. Look for coverage in PW Daily.