TOC Day 1

Today was the first day of Tools of Change. As with many O’Reilly conferences, we arranged the event so that this would be a day of tutorials–meaty, how-to sessions for publishers working on new technical challenges. I don’t yet know if attendance is an indicator of larger trends, but Digitizing Your Backlist and Incorporating POD Into a Profitable Publishing Strategy were particularly large, full rooms.

And deservedly so. During the time I spent in the POD session, Niko Pfund of Oxford University Press told some great stories about what it took to make thousands of backlist titles available as high-quality print-on-demand books–and some surprising changes the publishing house found in the aftermath. A few highlights:

* Authors are often resistant to POD, fearing that pirated copies of their books will wind up on the Web, and they’ll lose control over their material. OUP has hit on an analogy that helps authors embrace the new: the editors point out that nobody cares how wine is bottled; similarly, POD is just another system for creating a familiar package. And for many authors, POD means that OUP can now offer eternal life for their books.

* POD has, in some cases, inverted the traditional publishing model. Previously, the company spent a lot of time trying to figure out if a book was selling well enough to keep in print. Now OUP sometimes finds titles that are bringing in enough revenue through POD to justify bringing them back onto store shelves.

* OUP, like every publishing house, has had a history of tense and lengthy meetings over the size of print runs. No longer. POD has given them the flexibility to standardize their print runs without jeopardizing sales, freeing them from negotiating the numbers for every title. Niko referred to those as “among the meetings he misses least.”

Great stuff. Tomorrow, we’ve got 20+ sessions on tap….