Even a cold pouring rain couldn't hold down attendance at O'Reilly Media's fourth annual Tools of Change for Publishing Conference, held once again at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Manhattan. Sold out once again, the TOC's blend of highly technical workshops, business case studies and more conversational panels focused on the new digital publishing paradigm--conducted by a range of digital professionals (and digital superstars)--just seems to work.

Despite the fact that this year's TOC is the third high profile digital conference held in New York in the last three months, Tuesday's morning keynote presentations--Google counsel and copyright scholar William Patry and Web publisher/media celebrity Arianna Huffington stood out--were jammed with what looked to be nearly a 1,000 attendees set for a day of panels presentations and visionary projections about the future of publishing in the digital age. Indeed many of the presenters (and many of the attendees) were familiar faces from recent conferences sometimes, in this case, merely switching seats and moving from the podium to the audience or vice versa.

TOC program director Andrew Savikas said the show drew a "significant" number of first-time visitors and it appears that the show's combination of accessible brainy competence and visionary, science fiction-like projections just seems to pack them in. Patry's presentation was a good example. A noted copyright scholar (his book Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars was published last year by Oxford), Patry also works for Google and made it clear from the beginning that he would not comment on developments around the Google Book Settlement. But he did offer a more general look at the legal storms swirling around copyright and digital piracy, criticizing what he called "regulatory capitalism"--"investing in lawyers rather than products and services"--and even offered a kind of before and after scenario on dealing with digital piracy that focused on Macmillan.

Patry is skeptical of calls for stronger copyright and more penalties for pirates--"using the law as a business plan," he said--and seemed to point to the controversial anti-piracy manifesto invoked by Macmillan president Brian Napack at the recent Digital Book World--though he did not call him by name. However, he was then quick to hail Macmillan, calling the recent launch of its Dynamic Book platform, an interactive textbook platform offering much cheaper e-textbooks that allows teachers to revise and customize the books without permission, a "really cool market solution that adds value and makes people want to buy things "

TOC also features a form of digital cheerleading--"you need social media," or "you need XML," or "understand change"--that can seem odd at a conference full of professionals doing or planning to do all those things. But Huffington's exhortations to publishers and editor's to "use books as conversation starter and to use the power of online connections"--presumably on the Huffington Post's new sections focused on books and on college writers--seemed to appeal to the audience. She generated questions and offered further exhortations to talk about books online early and often--"write repeatedly about what you love"-- and not wait around for formal reviews.

Sourcebook publisher Dominique Raccah and a separate presentation by book blogger Kassia Krozser and Carina Press's Angela James, both fell into the hardheaded case study category. Raccah outlined her background starting as self-publisher with one book and growing into a major publishing house and distributor that publishes more than 300 books a year. She focused on managing a house's old (print) and new digital businesses, in particular developing iPhone apps based on Sourcebook titles: Sourcebook apps are profitable and she has 58 apps in development and said the house spends $3,000 to $7000 developing each one.

Krozser and James, she's the editorial director of Harlequin's newly launched digital-only Carina Press, broke down the details of launching a digital press: from identifying digital business models (new books, backlist, subscription service) to whether to use DRM, change contract length (Carina's contracts are limited to seven years rather than life of copyright), modify royalty software or whether to hire editors who will work on commission.

But for sheer paradigmatic visionary brilliance, the TOC's evening keynote could scarcely be topped. O'Reilly Media founder Tim O'Reilly held a conversation with futurist and technological visionary Ray Kurzweil-held at 7 pm last night in a packed hall to accommodate both of their crazy schedules--that also managed to combine utilitarian focus and clear business goals with wild visions of a very near future in which computers and artificial intelligence become a part of the human body in ways only a science fiction writer would entertain.

While Kurzweil demoed Blio, his new e-reading software developed in conjunction with Baker & Taylor, he also talked about his long history predicting technological change--noting in particular a column he wrote for PW's sister publication Library Journal nearly 20 years ago. Kurzweil says the speed of technological innovation is speeding up "exponentially"and computers will be able to recreate the brain's function and devices will be placed inside the human body-indeed inside our brains--that will make us smarter. Over the next 10 years, Kurzweil says, "the web will take over everything, including our minds."

O'Reilly said that technology will soon create a new generation of e-books that will talk back to us in ways we can't conceive today. "The analytics we'll be able to harvest will change everything," O'Reilly said. "E-books will send information back to publishers about the ways people are reading. It will change how we edit and produce books. Why did so many people read to page 32 and stop? It's going to be mind-blowing" O'Reilly said.