Are You Futured Out?

March 10, 2010

A blog entry on Richard Curtis’ very good E-Reads site struck a strong chord with me today.

Curtis writes:

Until now, most folks returning from the annual (O’Reilly’s) Tools of Change conference have come away inspired and energized as the flint of old thinking met the steel of innovation. But this time publishing industry blogger Don Linn reported symptoms of future weariness. “We are in the midst of a bucketload of ‘Future of Publishing’ conferences and there is an element of conference fatigue setting in,” he writes. “There’s not much new under the sun: In the 2- 1/2 days I was there, I didn’t see or hear anything startling or revolutionary that hasn’t been discussed in other conferences or even at previous TOC’s.”

I did not attend TOC, so of course cannot offer any comments on the event, but I am beginning to suffer a serious case of future fatigue. The media continues its feeding frenzy on every trivial piece of tech news that it can uncover, largely, I believe because it has always perceived publishing in all its forms as the most important subject known to mankind. Earthquakes in Haiti and Chile. Yeah, ok, a few headlines, but what about this: “Google Reaches Books Deal With Italy.” I’ll confess: didn’t even glance at it.

The media appears to subscribe to the lyrics of a song (that I can’t seem to locate on Google). The two key lines go:

“The only thing more interesting than me…
Is me.”

My foolish dream is that the big fat tech companies, Google, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Intel et al., would jointly declare a 12 month moritorium on heavy-duty R&D and marketing expenditures and offer a portion of their billions to tech workers around the world, who would receive, for example, $40k plus cost-of-living expenses, and would commit to working in third-world countries helping to improve infrastructure, sanitation, education, health care, and a long list of other crucial problems. The money would be paid monthly to the workers; if you quit early, that’s the end of it. If you work the full year and if your supervisor rates your efforts at a minimum of 7.5/10, you receive a $8k bonus.

Oh well, enough of my fantasy. Back to reading the endless blogs, Publishers Weekly and The Economist, and thinking about how most publishing technology is only barely managing to improve this world we inhabit.

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eBook Formats

December 19, 2009

Gosh I do write an awful lot about eBooks, but it is the flavor-of-the-year, not just for book publishers of course, but for readers (and publishers) everywhere. Always controversial, it never fails to “make good copy,” as they used to say in the newspaper business.

O’Reilly, the company; Tim O’Reilly, the founder; Andrew Savikas, a leading spokesperson and technologist; along with a host of other very bright staff, keep that firm at the forefront of all things important in digital publishing. They need to make money, and I should imagine they make a great deal, but they’re also extremely generous in sharing their knowledge through blogs, conferences, interviews and the like.

I think that a (free) subscription to O’Reilly’s “Tools of Change for Publishing” blog is an absolute must, regardless of where you make your home in the publishing food chain. It’s always full of provocative data and observations that all can likely extrapolate great value.

Like many veteran analysts of electronic publishing, I’m a great advocate for standards. They rarely cause harm, and generally are a force for the good of all users (if not for some selfish vendors who fight them).

Speaking of selfish vendors, Amazon has continually tried to push a proprietary eBook standard onto the publishing industry, attempting a range of strong-arm methods to enforce the standard if publishers wanted to get prized Amazon eBook distribution. I always knew that this would pass, and the evidence from O’Reilly (and others) is that the industry is finally fighting back and supporting the broad eBook standard, EPUB. Sony supports it, Barnes and Noble supports it, Adobe supports it: Amazon, your brief time in the sunlight is drawing to a close. You now support PDF (ouch). When will you become a good corporate eBook citizen and embrace EPUB? Very soon I predict.

A recent blog entry on O’Reilly illustrates what’s happening there, and I believe that what’s happening at O’Reilly will soon be what’s happening across the industry.

This first chart, based on “relative volume,” is a trifle confusing as Mobi somehow disappears:


This second chart, based on “relative volume, rather than percentage,” is more clear, although it does raise a question as to why all formats are declining. I could not find the explanation.



 So…there you have…something.

I’m sticking with my prediction. Amazon will have no choice but to capitulate and support EPUB, and thereby stop trying to pretend that it is Heaven’s designated vendor for all things eBook.

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Live from New York: The Future of Book Publishing

June 27, 2008

In February of this year the O’Reilly fiefdom held its second “Tools of Change for Publishers” conference in New York City. Though the title of the conference suggests that it was not limited to book publishers, books were indeed the focus. Details from the conference have been slow to emerge in cogent form.

Steve Paxhia, my colleague at Gilbane, offers a thorough overview in the May 29, 2008 edition of The Seybold Report, but unfortunately access is limited only to subscribers ($499 per year for the online version). The conference site, linked above, now also offers many of the presentations and other coverage of the event.

I was pleased to find today equally thorough coverage in the July-August 2008 issue of The Futurist, fortunately available online without charge. Senior editor Patrick Tucker perhaps enjoys an advantage in his coverage not available to Steve Paxhia: he is not intimate with the publishing industry, and by the nature of his publication is more focused on the futurist perspective than the insider’s perspective.

And as a result he makes an additional effort to contextualize his coverage of the presentations and highlights of the event.

The article struggles with the issues of balancing social media, new technology and the value of content in a very cogent fashion. Some of the ideas are familiar; others quite fresh and provocative.

My favorite quote is from Lewis Lapham, until recently the long-time editor of Harper’s magazine, and now the publisher and editor of Lapham’s Quarterly. From Tucker’s report, “To Lapham, the crudeness, silliness, and uncultured quality of today’s Web culture is a symptom of the immaturity of the new medium and the youthfulness of its users. The change will be gradual. “We’re still playing with it like it’s a toy,” he said of the Web. “We don’t yet know how to make art with it. McLuhan points out that the printing press was (introduced in the West in) 1468; it (was) a hundred years before you (got) to Cervantes, to Shakespeare.”

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Tim O’Reilly has decided that bloggers need a Code of Conduct

April 18, 2007

Tim O’Reilly, almost always a provocative, innovative thinker about all things Web, has decided that bloggers need a Code of Conduct.

A colleague and I were discussing blogs and Web site feedback generally on Friday night at dinner. Last year I held some early enthusiasm over the prospect of allowing just about anyone to say just about anything on each and every topic on this Web site. Now I’m hesitating.

I have added the standard commenting feature to The Future of Publishing blog. This works the way it does on most blogs, except that I review first-time posters before allowing their comments to appear, just to keep the yahoos out.

It had been my plan to have a similar commenting mechanism throughout the site, encouraging folks to comment on any of my conclusions and allegations, and generally to contribute ideas and commentary to the debate on the future of publishing.

I haven’t bothered to do this yet, and I’m not in a hurry. The reason is that I’ve now been watching the types of comments that flow into the average blog, and find them ranging between the annoying and the banal. They are about as close to “conversation” as one can find on the Web, which is to say poorly-considered, lacking insight, ungrammatical — generally of no interest whatsoever.

I attend a lot of conferences, and often moderate sessions where the audience is invited to participate and comment. My experience has been consistent: if the audience really knows the topic under discussion, they often offer insightful and challenging commentary. If they don’t know the topic well, they natter, causing only boredom and annoyance.

It’s only human.

As are the responses on blogs.

I don’t think that Mr. Reilly’s Code of Conduct has much value as it fails to address the most fundamental issue of blogs and their respondents: neither have anything interesting to say.

I think I’m happier with my (just dubbed) “pull blog” approach. If I find something interesting on the Web I point to it, and explain why I think it’s interesting. I don’t invite the world to come and junk up my site at will: this is not community, this is not dialog. It is one person standing in a room and announcing e=mc2, and 100 others, who don’t understand physics, loudly tossing out their opinions, ignoring both the original speaker and one another.

This site has a two-part hierarchy. The top level is my essays on aspects of the future of publishing. Some will enjoy these essays and find them insightful or useful; others will avoid them. The next level is where I connect to a very broad world of reporting and commentary on various aspects of the future of publishing. The material is so rich and diverse, I don’t see how anyone (obviously anyone who is interested in the future of publishing) would fail to find value in most of these links.

What this site probably won’t have is level three, the comments from the public section. If you’d like to contribute to this site, and I AM very interested in hearing from those who are very interested, please write to me at

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