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.
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.
Subscription is the right model for heavy users, pay-per-view works for occasional users, ad-supported appears to be the best way to fund fast-changing current content, and of course, some content is better rendered as an app than a book.
Most people thinking about ebooks are focused on creating an electronic recreation of print books. At O’Reilly, we’ve tried to focus not on the form of the book but on the job that it does for our customers. It teaches, it informs, it entertains. How might electronic publishing help us to advance those aims? Safari Books Online, our subscription based online library, was our answer. And it just got better. Safari Books Online 6.0, released yesterday, brings a new level of ease of use. Safari adopted a “cloud library” model rather than downloadable ebooks as its fundamental design metaphor. I thought it might be worthwhile to understand how we arrived at that decision, as well as some of the other lessons we’ve learned over what is now 22 years of ebook publishing experience.
I found myself quoting that great Bob Dylan line the other day on a mailing list for those dealing with the changes sweeping through the publishing industry. Michael Coffey from Publisher’s Weekly wrote an eloquent and moving lament that expresses the fear of many that the book might be losing its pre-eminent position in the cultural canon.
There’s a lot of excitement about ebooks these days, and rightly so. While Amazon doesn’t release sales figures for the Kindle, there’s no question that it represents a turning point in the public perception of ebook devices. And of course, there’s Stanza, an open ebook platform for the iPhone, which has been downloaded more than a million times (and now has been bought by Amazon.) But simply putting books onto electronic devices is only the beginning.
There was a great exchange on the O'Reilly editors' backchannel the other day, so illuminating that I thought I should share it with the rest of you. We've been discussing the fast-track development we're using to produce The Twitter Book. (We're basically authoring the book as a presentation, after I realized how much more quickly I am able to put…
There's been a lot of buzz on forward-looking publisher mailing lists in the past few days about Robert Darnton's piece in the New York Review of Books, Google and the Future of Books. When it hit techmeme today, I thought it might be appropriate to share more broadly the comments I made on the Reading 2.0 list (links added, minor…
I have to confess that one of the social networking tools I find most valuable is Goodreads. (It's a close second to Twitter, and way ahead of Facebook, Friendfeed, or Dopplr.) Unlike twitter, where I follow hundreds of people (possible because of twitter's minimalism) and am followed by thousands, on Goodreads, I follow and am followed by a small…
A report on the UnderConsideration blog outlines a fascinating experiment called Dear Lulu. From the blog coverage: This past July, fourteen students attended a two-day workshop at Germany's Hochschule Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences with Prof. Frank Philippin and London-based designer James Goggin. The brief, as explained by Goggin: "My plan for the workshop is to investigate the visible and…
Evan Schnittman of Oxford University Press has a fascinating blog post Looks Like a Million To Me: How I Realized that Amazon’s Kindle and Sony’s E-Reader Were Exceeding Sales Estimates, which calculates the combined number of Sony Reader and Kindle units out there to be a million by the end of 2008: Amazon and Sony both use the 6-inch electrophoretic…