Live from New York: The Future of Book Publishing

June 27th, 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.”