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Jun 13

Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

TOC Conference Next Week

I'm really looking forward to our Tools of Change for Publishing Conference next week, which we call TOC for short. While O'Reilly long ago moved beyond thinking of ourselves as just a publisher, book publishing is still a big part of what we do. But over the years, we've had to re-think publishing as the outward form of what we do -- and only one of many outward forms at that. Our core business is changing the world by spreading the knowledge of innovators, and following that mission led us to broaden what we do to include online publishing, conferences, online education, magazines, and venture investing.

That focus on what our business is really about is only one of the many stories that we want to tell at TOC, but it's an important one. Publishers who are alarmed by competition from the internet need to remember that what they do isn't putting ink on paper and books into bookstores. A reference publisher is in the business of helping people find the information they need when they need it. A fiction publisher is in the entertainment business. A textbook publisher is in the education business.

And regardless of which job a publisher's books do, there are core competencies that carry over well into the internet era. I find it odd when people see user generated content as somehow at odds with publishing. (See for example Andrew Keen's The Cult of the Amateur.) Publishers have always been in the business of winnowing through piles of user-generated content looking for gems, polishing what they find, curating it and bringing it to market. Ultimately, every publisher is a talent agent, and the internet provides powerful new tools for finding good stuff, promoting it, and ultimately, figuring out how to make money from it.

That last bit (making money) still has a lot of uncertainty to it. But that's true in every new market. Some people figure out the angles early, and others eventually learn to follow them. As we see many publishers and retailers in doom and gloom about declining book sales, we wanted to remind everyone of the success stories, to bring together the people who are reinventing publishing, and celebrate what we've learned so far.

Some of the talks I'm most excited about (apart from ones given by O'Reilly or Safari folks, with whose work I'm already familiar) include:

  • Brian Murray's Retooling Harper Collins for the 21st Century. Every time I meet with Brian or his team at Harpers, I learn something new. They are among the most forward looking of the NY publishing giants.
  • Jimmy Wales' Free Culture and the Future of Publishing. Wikipedia is one of the giants in the next wave of publishing. Jimmy has so much to teach all of us about how we need to reinvent publishing for the 21st century, at the same time as he teaches us how far we have to go in building business models to go with the enormous reach that free, participatory culture can create.
  • Gavin Bell's Social Software: What is it? How Can it Work for Publishers? The Nature Publishing group (part of Holtzbrinck, a 200 year old publisher that got its start printing bibles) is fearless in exploring new technology, with some of the most innovative offerings side by side with some of the most hallowed brands in professional science publishing.
  • Chris Anderson's two talks, one on the economics of abundance, and the other on new approaches to author-driven marketing.
  • Bob Pritchett's Business Models that Guarantee Profitability in Publishing. How could you not like a talk that guarantees profitability? :-) But there's even more to like when you realize that Bob is talking about some of the same secret sauce that drives the success of Web 2.0 darlings like involving the user up front in deciding which products to manufacture and sell.

  • My Q&A session with Adam Smith and Dan Clancy of Google Book Search about Search and Publishing. It was when I came to realize how little many publishers actually know about the search engine economy that I decided to put on this conference. Book search has the potential to transform the entire publishing landscape. But the fruits of that transformation will go disproportionately to the players who understand how to put the new technology to work for them rather than against them.
  • Jason Hunter on Next Generation Web Publishing. Jason is from MarkLogic, the xquery database company whose software has powered some of O'Reilly's most innovative experiments in online publishing. He can work magic.
  • Lydia Varmazis on How is Reading Evolving? I've long argued that new media changes how people interact with content. (See The Medium Changes the Preferred Format.) If we want to think about how publishers need to change, we need to understand how readers are already changing.

  • Adam Engst's talk on Collaborative Writing Tools and Techniques. Collaboration is something the internet does really well. Putting it to work in publishing is one of the most exciting frontiers. And Adam has a long history taming one frontier after another.

And of course, I'm also looking forward to seeing the latest crop of ebook devices, mobile content plays, and print on demand innovations. Overall, it's a rich program, and I'm glad to see that we've got a good group of attendees making the pilgrimage out from NY, the heartland of publishing, to Silicon Valley, the heartland of technology. (Next year, the technologists will have to make the pilgrimage the other way.)

In putting this conference together, it's been great to have the support of such a wide range of industry players, including Ingram, the pre-eminent printed book distributor who is set on becoming the pre-eminent ebook and print-on-demand distributor as well, and Adobe, the arms merchant of choice to anyone who puts words or images to work, as well as MarkLogic, Microsoft Live Search, Blurb, Qoop, Libre Digital, eReader Outfitters, Malloy (O'Reilly's principal printer for many a year), The Copyright Clearance Center, and Safari.

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Eoin Purcell said:


Sounds like it will be an amazing conference. Will you be allowing access to any of the content online for those of us not able to attend?



Another amazing conference this week is TiECON East in Boston. I know you moderated one session at TiECON in the bay area last month and hence I write to you about it.

I will be live blogging TiECON East from June 14-Jun 16 and the topics of most interest are Emerging Technologies, Web 2.0 and Mobile 2.0

Eideard said:

It occurs to me that conferences which look to the future just might wish to include a bit more of the planet's future - our cyberworld's future - like Asia.

Ed Renehan said:

Tim: I don't know why I didn't zero-in on this sooner. My only excuse is that I've been living in a cave writing and editing my latest book. I'd love to attend but can't rearrange my schedule at this late moment. I hope you and yours will make the presentations available as a download, on the web, or on DVD.

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