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Publishing News: Let's remember why we got into this business

Lavar Burton on the power of storytelling and other highlights from TOC 2012.

TOC 2012In this special edition of the Publishing Week in Review, I’m taking a look at highlights from the 2012 Tools of Change for Publishing Conference held in New York City earlier this week.

Publishing isn’t about print vs digital or incompatible ereading formats — it’s about storytelling

As far as inspiration goes, it doesn’t get much better than LeVar Burton’s TOC keynote address. Burton first talked about how he came to literature and publishing. Going back to his childhood, he reminisced that you were either reading a book or getting hit by one — his mother didn’t care how, but “in her house, you were going to have an encounter with the written word.”

His experiences with storytelling became more profound when he landed a major role on the miniseries “Roots,” which taught him about the transformative nature of literature when combined with a visual medium. That experience was so profound for Burton that he left his priesthood studies, deciding storytelling was more effective at reaching people. This decision also later led to 25 years of “Reading Rainbow,” the series that used TV to get kids interested in books.

Burton said that “stories are bridges to real-world experiences” and that he’s a “firm believer between that which we imagine and that which we create.”

“The stories that we tell each other and have told each other throughout the history of the development of civilization are integrally important, are inextricably linked, to how we continue to invent the world in which we live.”

Burton said reading and storytelling go far beyond discussions of print versus digital or which digital format should prevail:

“We are going to be absolutely fine, so long as we do not fail ourselves in the one fundamental aspect of who it is we are and what we bring to the table. Remember, human beings are manifesting machines. We are just like that child watching the episodes of ‘Star Trek,’ seeing those images, using our imaginations, coming up with a piece of technology that actually serves humanity going forward.

“Our imaginations always have been, always will be, our continuing link into ourselves in order to make contact with ourselves so that then we might share the beauty of ourselves through culture with the rest of the world … I encourage you to remember the nature of what it is you signed on for. You’ve come here to make a difference. You’ve come here to use your imaginations in the service of storytelling. Doing the same things we have done for years with a new opportunity, with new tools, a few more bells and whistles — it’s still, and always will be, about storytelling.”

Burton’s full keynote is available in the following video:

The Publishing Panic of 2015 is coming. Can we stop it?

Joe Karaganis, vice president of The American Assembly at Columbia University, addressed issues of piracy and enforcement in a keynote address. Using his work with the Media Piracy in Emerging Economies project as a backdrop, Karaganis said the opposition to SOPA/PIPA and ACTA has moved the conversation beyond online piracy to the convergence of citizenship, democratic accountability and different rights.

The main ingredients of piracy, Karaganis said, are “high prices, low incomes and cheap digital technologies” and that “enforcement has been irrelevant — it’s what happens around the edges of these underlying economic drivers.” He argued that the current system doesn’t scale well and that prosecution rarely occurs:

“When you look at how enforcement works in middle- and low-income countries, you find a pretty simple, consistent pattern: You find raid-based enforcement, characterized by the ramping up of police actions and little to no follow through. There’s little likelihood that these cases will make it to trial, and in fact, little expectation that they will.”

There’s a simple explanation for the discrepancy: “It’s cheaper to buy cops than lawyers — raids are cheap, but due process is expensive and slow.” He argued that the new enforcement measures (SOPA/PIPA/ACTA) realize this futility and so they instead focus on abridging due process: “The only way to scale up enforcement is to take it out of the courts, to make it an administrative function, and whenever possible, and automated one.”

Karaganis said his research showed there’s a lot of casual infringement, but very little large-scale or hard-core infringement — 1-3% are hard-core pirates, according to his data.

Bringing the discussion around to publishing, specifically the education market, Karaganis asked, “What happens when the access problem is solved without any corresponding solution to the crisis of the library or the commercial markets — there will be access; the question is, who will make it convenient and affordable?” Using open-education research as an example, he said the problem is that they’re not competing with the commercial market, they’re competing with the pirate market:

“They’re competing with a ‘copy culture’ that hasn’t waited for approved institutional solutions to emerge. As digital readers get very, very cheap in the next few years, that copy culture is going to grow exponentially and produce a huge democratization in educational opportunity and access to knowledge. That will be a hugely disruptive challenge to all parties involved and produce its own cause for enforcement and control.”

Karaganis referred to this impending phenomenon as “The Publishing Panic of 2015,” and to address it we’ll need more than just opposition to legislation like SOPA and PIPA:

“It’s not enough to simply say SOPA is bad or enforcement doesn’t work, even among people who agree. We need to develop a positive set of proposals for what we want, collectively, for what the public interest is in and around intellectual property. ‘What’s the positive agenda?’ is a very fair question.”

More background on Karaganis’ research can be found at The American Assembly website. The “Media Piracy in Emerging Economies” report can be downloaded here.

Karaganis’ full keynote can be viewed in the following video:

Bookstores: It’s about monetizing relationships and experiences, not about selling books

The “Kepler’s 2020: Building the Community Bookstore of the 21st Century” session created quite a buzz at the show. For a bit of background, The Kepler’s 2020 Project release described it:

“The project aims to create an innovative hybrid business model that includes a for-profit, community-owned-and-operated bookstore, and a nonprofit organization that will feature on-stage author interviews, lectures by leading intellectuals, educational workshops and other literary and cultural events.”

Thad McIlroy, owner of TheFutureofPublishing.com, opened the conference session with thoughts on reinventing “the notion of the bookstore in the midst of this crazy time of change.” McIlroy said that the Kepler’s 2020 project, being led by literary entrepreneur Praveen Madan, is blazing a trail.

Madan’s subsequent presentation focused on debunking industry myths. Specifically, printed books are not going to survive and we don’t need bookstores in the age of instantly downloadable ebooks.

Madan shared a survey finding that revealed overwhelming support (95%) for using bookstores as “a place for browsing and discovering new ideas” and (72%) as “a place to buy books.” He pointed out that more than half of the responders had ereading devices.

Madan also offered two trends that explain why bookstores need to be reinvented and why they still have a future:

  1. Technology is having an isolating impact — “People are more and more disconnected from each other.” We are working from home, shopping from home, and community gathering places (churches, schools, community centers) aren’t as effective. So, what places are going to bring people together? “We think that can be bookstores,” Madan said. “Bookstores need to be re-imagined as those places.”
  2. Browsing — We still need showrooms for books. “The reality is that 18 years after Amazon started tweaking its algorithms for recommending books, a well-curated, physical, in-store experience is still better at helping readers discover books,” Madan said.

“What we really need is for someone in the technology world to step up and say, “I think there is an opportunity here,” he said. Madan also insisted it needs to be open: “We’ll pay for the services and we’ll pay for the development, but the platform needs to be open source.”

The buzz was heightened at the end of the Q&A session when Madan said he was looking to partner with Amazon to sell ebooks through his store:

“[Ebooks are] something we want to provide; we want to be part of the overall experience. But the solution and the technology has to come from somebody else. I’m very serious about looking at [partnering with] Amazon and just giving away Kindles and telling people it’s okay — you have our permission. Walk into the bookstore, browse the books and download the books on your Kindle.”

When people ask Madan how he’ll make money, he answers that that isn’t the point — he doesn’t need to make money on every downloaded book; he’ll make money on the relationships in other ways.

You can learn more about The Kepler’s 2020 Project in the following short video:


If you couldn’t make it to TOC, or you missed a session you wanted to see, sign up for the TOC 2012 Complete Video Compilation and check out our archive of free keynotes and interviews.


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  • http://www.vanguardprintingllc.com New York Printer

    There is no comparison to a printed book vs. digital model. With the printed book with just the feel and texture, you get the feeling that you are transported to that place where the author is sharing their story. The digital is much more like social contacts, more impersonal and not as meaningful.