SXSW: Publishers, Where are You?

On a private mailing list for publishers, Peter Brantley pointed to Booksquare’s open letter to publishers, wondering why the heck they aren’t at SXSW in Austin? He quoted extensively from the open letter:

South by Southwest logo

“South by Southwest, the interactive festival, is in full swing. […] Nay, many of the attendees at this year’s festival are already riding that wave that we call The Future. We have representatives from music, motion pictures, gaming, all manner of web technologies. We have content creators and producers and aggregators. We have those whose DIY genes overlap with corporate souls.

“What we don’t have is a coterie of publishing house representatives. This is bad, dear publishers, very bad. What is happening on the ground in this fair city in Texas is what you will pay consultants big bucks to execute in two years. […]

“Though we certainly hope it is already happening – given that the trend is well into its fourth year – you will hold meetings about community and building community and retaining community and the future of publishing and how you can really differentiate yourself in a fragmented world. These topics have been part of the SXSW conversation for some time … to the point where the more complex questions of identity management are not abstracts but areas for debate.

“The publishers of the world cannot afford to miss events like this. We grant you that the SXSW organizers haven’t done their best job when it comes to marketing to you. That is no excuse on your part. You keep assuring us that you are on the ball, that you get the Internet. Yet when the chance arrives to actually be part of what’s happening now, or even to chime in when the question of the future of the book is asked (and it has been asked several times already, not to mention an entire panel devoted to the topic).

“It seems to us that you would want to be in the room when people are asking these critical questions. It seems to us that you’d have something to say on this topic. It seems to us that you’d want to share your own innovations and soak up possible new directions.

“There is much discussion on new ways to tell stories. What works and doesn’t work in today’s universe. Multi-format storytelling. Cross-platform storytelling. Mixing words and sounds and pictures to extend the story beyond the book. Mixing fiction and reality in the blogosphere and beyond. Story is very important this year at SXSWi.

“It’s an idea that has been building for years. Mixed in with the idea of story is the idea of content ownership, especially in a collaborative or user-generated environment, combatting piracy in innovative ways (you could, if you were here dear publishers, learn that the gaming community is thinking hard on this issue and have creative thoughts on the matter), and building and retaining passionate audiences.”

Awesome stuff. We hope we can do as well at TOC, and this time, get some publisher attention.

Of course, not all publishers are absent, Timo Hannay, Nature‘s web publishing guru, wrote in followup to Peter’s post of the Booksquare challenge:

Hey, I’m here! :) So are folks from O’Reilly. But I guess we’re exceptions and the general point is well taken: I hardly ever see any other publishers at events like SXSW, ETech and Web 2.0. Instead they seem to go to more publishing-oriented events, which are mainly useful for finding out what was discussed at conferences like SXSW 3-5 years ago.

(Yes, O’Reilly is at SXSW in force. In fact, Make’s Phil Torrone and Limor Fried did an awesome keynote (just blogged). O’Reilly authors Kathy Sierra, Christopher Schmitt, and Eric Meyer are also speaking, and we have a good number of editors from our various divisions in attendance as well.)