I’ve gone to a lot of conferences over the years. Conferences for trade book publishers, scholarly publishers, news and media publishers, educational publishers. Conferences for librarians. Conferences for techies and conferences for nontechies.
Techies often think the conferences for nontechies are a waste of time. Nontechies hardly ever consider going to techy ones. And who goes to those sector-specific conferences? You know the answer.
Those are all valuable to the constituencies they’re designed for. But they can be echo chambers. It’s fun to attend a conference where everybody knows everybody. But that perpetuates the illusion that those folks are everybody who matters.
This has always driven me crazy—which is why I like to attend as many different types of conferences as I can. Most people outside of scholarly publishing, for example, have no idea how far ahead of the other sectors the scholarly world is in the use of technology. Ironically, publishers have no idea that libraries often have much more sophisticated technical knowledge than publishers do. And hardly anybody knows about the really useful and important standards that come out of the news industry (see IPTC—ever heard of those folks?).
What brought this to mind was the recent Digital Book World conference. While that conference is about digital publishing (but not nearly tech-heavy enough for techies) and about books (there is so much publishing outside of books, and outside of trade books!), the latest incarnation of DBW—Bradley Metrock bought it a couple of years ago and moved it to Nashville—is very deliberately designed, to quote from Metrock’s opening remarks, to be “the gathering of the wide world of publishing.”
Metrock is CEO of Score Publishing, a company focused on voice technology. Voice? Alexa, what does voice technology have to do with books? (Kidding. Alexa can’t answer that—yet.) At DBW, there were head-spinning examples of innovators creating Alexa skills (aka apps) that make it clear that attention must be paid to voice technology.
Is voice the future of publishing? Of course not. But what is eminently clear at a diverse conference such as DBW is that the future of publishing involves a whole lot of things that we’re barely aware of—voice being one of them.
One of the most compelling talks was by Idea Logical Co.’s Mike Shatzkin, who gave a brilliant account of what has happened to the trade book industry over the past few decades, illuminating the impact Amazon and Ingram have had in facilitating publishing without the need for investing in infrastructure, which has led to the proliferation of self publishing. He predicted “a flood of new entrants by noncommercial publishers,” for whom the value of a book is significant but isn’t a matter of income. He maintained that this will be more disruptive to commercial publishing than self-publishing has been.
Think this is just relevant to trade publishing? Think again. These very same developments—the ability of individuals and organizations to publish real books (not just blogs and websites) with little or no investment in infrastructure, and the fact that many of those parties do so not for income but to further other goals, such as establishing authority or a brand or just getting the word out—are hugely important to scholarly publishing and educational publishing, too. Scholarly publishers are under pressure to publish everything, books and journals, open access—a matter of mission for academics and a priority for the funders of research. Educational publishers are faced with the use of open educational resources (OER)—free content on the web—and the ability of teachers and professors to develop their own course materials. Ingram’s VitalSource has a content creation tool that makes it easy for educators to do just that.
I could go on and on about developments at DBW relevant to sectors they’re not created for. If you were at DBW, here are some of the topics you could have dropped in on: amazing things that people are doing with ePub 3; why author publishing is so different from commercial publishing; how to partner with Microsoft and its Immersive Reader to facilitate the creation of content for K–8 education—globally, in many languages; how the value of Adam Hyde’s Book Sprints (“From zero to book in five days”) turns out not to be just about making a book real fast but about building consensus; how to deconstruct textbooks to make learning more effective; how Macmillan Learning is transforming its processes and publications—and its culture—to address the demands of today’s digital world; and how data scientists at Stanford are creating the “intelligent textbook,” among others.
Many of these things may seem irrelevant to your work—but I bet they’re not. Other sectors have some of the same issues you do—and are developing solutions that could be useful to you. Raise the blinds in your silo. Watch what’s happening out there. It’s the future.
Bill Kasdorf is principal at Kasdorf & Associates, a consultancy focusing on accessibility, information architecture, and editorial and production workflows. He is a founding partner of Publishing Technology Partners.