Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Age of Re-Tooling

As a writer, I found the Tools of Change Conference fascinating, if a bit disorienting. With all the talk of e-book formats, digital rights, and enhanced content, I had this heady feeling of getting a glimpse of what’s behind the curtain—and not being quite sure if I really wanted to see. I was struck by the contrast between the amiable chatter typical of conference crowds and what seemed to me muted responses to the speakers (particularly unnerving as I was one of them!) with few questions for the presenters. I felt a bit like a student who had walked into a class where everyone else was already confused.

With such volatility in the industry, confusion makes total sense. Question marks hover over the way books will be produced, sold, read, and even written. That’s big stuff. But behind the confusion I felt something else, the kind of ambient fear that accompanies the push-and-pull of change. A friend said the mood reminded her of the CD Rom era, when it became increasingly clear that this seemingly game-changing new medium wasn’t the future but no one knew what would replace it.

What will these changes mean for writers? I don’t know – but I do believe it’s better to engage in conversations about the future of the book than to wish change away. In her keynote speech Arianna Huffington said this was not the end of publishing, but rather the beginning of an age of engagement—and noted the folly of wishing ourselves back to a “golden time” for publishing because such a time didn’t exist; rather, reading habits and literature have always been evolving. So with open eyes and an open spirit I’ll continue to write, knowing that my words may be read in transit on a small screen rather than in a comfortable chair beneath the warm glow of a reading lamp.

Regarding the nuts and bolts (indulge me the cliché; we are talking “tools” here) I will defer to what participants are saying about the conference. There’s a wealth of information, so I encourage anyone interested in how publishing is changing to dive in. I particularly liked this piece by Kassia Krozser of the industry blog Booksquare and this quick-fire response from Mark Coker of the ebook publisher Smashwords.The brief presentation I gave was in a strict format: 20 slides, 15 seconds a slide. Here is one image that didn’t make the cut. Tony and I had stopped by Vermont Confectionery when we were out looking for cows to photograph. Pictures of cows? Don’t ask…


  1. "...knowing that my words may be read in transit on a small screen rather than in a comfortable chair beneath the warm glow of a reading lamp."
    I would replace 'rather than' with 'in addition to' as I do feel that ebooks are an additional format versus an alternate one. And I have been known to read a book on my iPod Touch in a comfy chair under the warm glow of a lamp! Honest! With a cup of tea, even.

  2. True, Sharon! It's all going to be a great big mix out there. Thanks for writing!

  3. Thanks Judith. Can relate to the 'feeling' of the event from attending last year. Very good conference ... eclectic mix of paper publishers, entrepreneurs, business people, TO'R groupies, and oh so many alpha geeks all convinced their niche solution will revolutionize the 500-yr-old publishing industry tomorrow. There are fundamanetal shifts to be sure. There's no putting the print genie back in the bottle. And I agree with you that for content producers this means new audiences can be addressed beyond the traditional cozy chair reader. One major challenge still is getting the broad-based economic model right for everyone in the ecosystem. This is where the tectonic plates meet. I applaud you for peering behind the door. I can imagine how chaotic and unnerving it must look. Economics, not gizmos, will ultimately pave the path. As someone who has lived at the edge of technology since J-school, I can tell you there is beauty in this chaos, and opportunity.