A three-day conference examining tools that could change book publishing, a daylong seminar about digital distributors, and several deals made for a hectic time in publishing's technology circle last week.

In San Jose, Calif., a little over 400 digital and book publishing professionals attended O'Reilly Media's first Tools of Change for Publishing conference, and overall the conference has to get high marks for its programming and high-profile presenters. But the emotional highlight of the show was a presentation on the last day by Manolis Kelaidis, a designer, engineer and lecturer at the Royal College of Art in Britain. Called bLink, Kelaidis's project is a physical book prototype that he's embedded with electronics that allows the reader to use a finger to click on paper hyperlinks on the book's pages and call up corresponding information on a nearby screen, like a paper and ink computer. It spurred a standing ovation from a professional crowd that had spent the previous three days essentially discussing the end of the physical book.

Celebrated Long Tail author Chris Anderson was also a hit with attendees, and his next book, called Free, is a study of the economics of giving stuff away to sell something else. The book generated a lot of discussion, and Anderson and his publisher, Hyperion, plan to give away as many copies as possible (without annoying retailers) as an experiment on the book's premise. Overall the conference brought together mainstream publishers like HarperCollins's Brian Murray and the Ingram Book Group's John Ingram in a program with digital personalities like Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales and Adobe's Bruce Chizen to come to grips with what publishing means in the digital age. Next year's TOC, slated for New York City, should attract an even bigger crowd. (Complete conference coverage is available at /TOCcoverage.)

In New York, more than 100 people attended the Digital Asset Distribution for Book Publishers seminar sponsored by the software company Klopotek, where they heard seven companies identified as DADs by consultants Mike Shatzkin and Mark Bide present their credentials about why they should serve as intermediaries for publishers in the digital supply chain. Although each DAD tried to differentiate itself from its competitors, there were several attributes most speakers agreed DADs should possess to provide effective service to publishers. One of the primary reasons for using a DAD for digital applications is it allows publishers to “convert once, publish many,” as Craig Miller, general manager of LibreDigital, noted in explaining how, after DADs convert a book to a digital file, they are in position to distribute it through various channels. The ability to integrate a publisher's content with other partners was also touted by many DADs, with several noting that they have the capability, for instance, to use an e-book file for print-on-demand. Digital publishing is in the experimental phase, all DADs agreed, and any company should allow publishers to test different business models at reasonable costs. A few DADs also observed that while it is fine to plan for the future, companies shouldn't overlook the opportunity to make some money today through the sale of e-books, selling direct to consumers or revising older works. All DADs talked about the importance of security, even in search services where the number of pages a browser can see is limited. And publishers need to stay in control of their titles, even if they are outsourcing the digital process. (For a list of DADs, go to www.publishers weekly.com/dadslist.)

Kate Davey, general manager for BiblioVault, provided publishers with four rules they should follow when working with a DAD: (1) make sure you have access to your files, (2) don't hope to walk away entirely from the digital process; publishers need to build a relationship with DADs and provide direction for their content, (3) get your short-term goals met and (4) be sure you can stockpile books that are not ready for electronic release.

In his presentation, Andrew Weinstein, senior v-p of business development for Ingram Digital Ventures, referred to the company's announcement at the Tools of Change conference that it had signed an outsourcing agreement with Microsoft to help scan and manage the digital files for titles submitted to Microsoft for inclusion in its Live Search Book service. Ingram will focus primarily on in-copyright titles, said James Gray, president and CEO of IDG. Last month, Microsoft, which had been scanning only public domain and out-of-copyright works into Live Search Book, opened up the program to copyright titles as well. Publishers whose books are digitized by Ingram will have the option of making them part of Ingram's Lightning Source print-on-demand program as well as the company's e-book delivery services.

In a second partnership announced last week, Kirtas Technology, which has been selling its book-scanning machines at a steadily increasing pace for more than five years, signed a deal with Amazon that has Kirtas executives hopeful that the adoption of the machine will quicken even more. Under the agreement, libraries that buy or lease the APT BookScan 2400 system can use Amazon's BookSurge print-on-demand service to print the titles for sale through the e-tailer. Selling books “is a way for libraries to help defray the costs of digitizing their collections,” said Lotfi Belkhir, CEO of Kirtas. Many libraries with aging books are looking to preserve them, but costs can be prohibitive. The BookScan 2400 costs about $130,000, but the ability to sell books can help libraries recoup that cost while giving them control of their digital files, Belkhir said. Libraries that have signed on to the program are at Emory University, the University of Maine, Toronto Public Library and Cincinnati Public Library.

In addition to making available for sale rare works from the libraries' collections, professors could use a library's digital files to create their own texts or anthologies, noted Belkhir, something that could create more competition for publishers' classic titles. Amazon's senior manager of business development, Kurt Beidler, said the partnership with Kirtas will provide the e-tailer “with titles we've never sold before. We can increase our selection while leaving people who have the expertise in the driver's seat.”

Despite the Kirtas-Amazon connection, libraries who buy the 2400 system will be free to use other POD services and sales outlets to print and distribute their works.