In March of this year, following a wonderful day of programming at TOC Bologna, I sat at dinner with a few of our speakers from the day—my friend and CONTEC Frankfurt speaker Paul Rhodes included—and the conversations at that table were simply absorbing. Publishing related? Yes. But so unlike the publishing-related presentations and panels we’d all spent our day giving and listening to at the conference. These conversations were different. It wasn’t just the wine or the food. It was the passion. It was the give-and-take. It was the dialogue.

We talked about everything from rights and branding to e-book pricing and Amazon, and everyone had, and shared, a number of well-informed opinions. That evening was lively, vibrant, interesting, and information packed. And it was then and there that I knew I didn’t want to do conferences the same old way anymore. I wanted to bring that spirit of informal publishing-related “dinner table/cocktail party/hallway chat” conversations into a conference setting. And due to some unforeseen circumstances (the abrupt shuttering of O’Reilly’s Tools of Change conference series), I was given the opportunity.

CONTEC Frankfurt, on October 8, is the chance to create that “conference as a dinner party.” Sure, with some modifications. Maybe having 70 or so speakers and hundreds of delegates in a hotel conference setting as opposed to six people around a dinner table takes away from the intimacy of the conversation, but CONTEC is a noble first attempt at real interaction between presenters and audience alike. I would call it a big baby step away from one-way speeches and long-winded panels where the audience gets short shrift in a truncated q&a at the end of the session.

As at that dinner in Bologna, the topics at CONTEC Frankfurt are wide-ranging and interesting: data, the future of bookselling, the implications of self-publishing for the industry, responsive design, metadata, rights, distribution, libraries, start-ups, and more. This dinner party includes speakers and delegates from more than 20 countries—Israel, Japan, the U.S., the U.K., Germany, and beyond. And among them are all manner of publishing professionals: trade and STM publishers, agents, techies, authors, journalists, data analysts, marketers, and yes, more.

One can have the good fortune to sit in on a panel exploring the future role of libraries featuring Jill Cousins, executive director of the Europeana Foundation; witness a dynamic keynote by German Internet guru Sascha Lobo; join HarperCollins group strategy and digital director Nick Perrett in discussing publishing start-ups working with venture capitalists and other investors; or hear Kristen McLean (CEO of Bookigee in Miami, Fla.), Sebastian Posth (CEO of Germany’s Publishing Data Networks), and Laura Dawson (Bowker’s product manager for identifiers) get down to the nitty-gritty of data big and small.

The day is a day of conversation, and a day that notes the increasingly important role of partnerships in an industry once known for its competitive and somewhat secretive nature. Debuting at CONTEC Frankfurt, the newly formed European consortium TISP (Technology and Innovation for Smart Publishing) offers an opportunity to talk about interoperability in the field of e-books and new partnerships that are being born in Europe between distribution operators and telecommunications leaders. Members of the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) share the latest information on their digital publishing initiatives, extending an invitation to the publishing community worldwide to lend their voices in the evolution of Web technologies. And a favorite partnership of mine, EDItEUR’s Supply Chain track, brings a robust roster of speakers including Graham Bell, chief data architect, EDItEUR, and Victoriano Colodrón, senior director, global relations, Copyright Clearance Center, who analyzes international market statistics, accessibility standards, digital global rights and royalties.

Attendees can look at the latest update of “The Global eBook Market: Current Conditions & Future Projections,” and the day also includes an international start-up showcase competition, complete with Dragons’ Den-like judging panel. And to give delegates and speakers the chance to really drill down into topics of interest, two special “Interactive Learning Labs” close out the day. One of the two-hour sessions deals with the implications of self-publishing for the industry and features speakers from self-publishing service providers, publishers incorporating self-publishing, and author Hugh Howey—quite successful with his self-published series Wool—discussing the opportunities and risks that traditional publishers face with the rise of self-publishing. The other session is dedicated to the future of scholarly, higher education, and academic publishing.

The big goal for CONTEC Frankfurt (hopefully, to be met) is to take the hallway conversations we all love into the sessions themselves. Official speakers and panelists may have been tasked with igniting discussions around topics, but the sessions are largely about the opinions and ideas of the attendees. A truly global, peer-to-peer, cross-discipline, cross-category day of active learning and conversation around issues that everyone has a stake in.