Ending the TOC Conference, But Still Pushing Tools of Change for Publishing

O’Reilly has been publishing books since 1986, but I’ve often said that we consider ourselves more of a technology transfer company than a typical publisher. Twenty years after our first book, Unix in a Nutshell, we realized that the insights and connections we’d garnered through our unique position at the intersection of computer technology and publishing could be useful to other publishers, and we launched TOC, the Tools of Change for Publishing Conference. Now, after seven years of convening the industry, we are retiring both the TOC conference and the TOC blog.

The decision to discontinue a popular conference was not one we made lightly. But after TOC 2013, we realized that a conference was no longer the best vehicle for us to contribute to publishing’s forward movement. When we first announced TOC, I said:

“Publishing isn’t about putting ink on paper, and moving blocks of said paper through warehouses to readers. It’s about knowledge dissemination, learning, entertainment, codification of subject authority — the real jobs that authors and publishers do for readers… Our goal is to bring together people who are pushing the boundaries of publishing and those who want to learn from them, and to provide a table of contents (TOC), so to speak, on what modern publishers need to know.”

Seven years on, “digital publishing” is well on its way to simply being “publishing,” and options for both publishers and readers continue to evolve and expand. Publishers are significantly more change-hardy than they were in 2006. And there are plenty of other events that are helping publishers keep up with new technology offerings in the space.

This doesn’t mean that O’Reilly is no longer committed to pushing forward the reinvention of the publishing industry. But we’re shifting the focus of our publishing tools group from hosting the conversation about publishing technology to bringing our own tools to market.

We’ve been developers of publishing technology since the days we first started publishing. In the “scratch your own itch” spirit of the open source movement, we co-created DocBook in the early ’90s, published the first commercial web magazine, GNN (initially developed as a demo to help bookstores grok the Internet!) in 1993, and launched Safari Books Online in 2000. And we’ve used the internal production toolchain we built over the years to create a digital distribution business that now provides DRM-free ebooks in multiple formats not only from O’Reilly but also from Microsoft Press, Wiley, Elsevier, No Starch, and many other technical publishers.

For the past few years, we’ve been focusing on development of a platform code-named Atlas, and bringing that to fruition is central to our future plans. Atlas is a tool for collaborative writing (currently being used by authors of about two-thirds of the books in our pipeline), one-touch publishing in all formats (including print-on-demand), and an interactive online reading platform that takes full advantage of the digital realm. We believe it takes a big step towards fulfilling the promise of digital publishing. You’ll be hearing much more about Atlas in the coming months.

You can continue to follow our thoughts about publishing on the O’Reilly Radar and on the Safari tech blog.

TOC was a great ride, and we’ll miss many things about that annual gathering of the future-positive publishing community. Ideas and connections from TOC will continue to inform our work and, we hope, yours. I especially want to thank TOC program chairs Kat Meyer and Joe Wikert for the passion, creativity, and commitment they brought to their work. I wish them well, and am confident that they’ll continue to help shape the publishing industry’s future.