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Publishers, Techies Love Each Other Up

Granted, many of you have probably already seen the basic news from the general annnual meeting of the Association of American Publishers Tuesday morning, which ran with the theme of “The Book World Goes Digital.” Certainly you’ll have heard about Microsoft attorney <a href=""Thomas Rubin‘s speech, the short version of which is “Google Book Search sucks, Microsoft Live Search rocks.” But have you seen pictures? I didn’t think so!


Clockwise from the top left: BabyCenter chair Tina Sharkey prepares to educate the audience on how younger readers don’t just “go online” today, they “live online,” so publishers will have to create or piggyback onto new forms of social media to reach them; Mark Bide of Rightscom Limited tries to keep the technical details of Automated Content Access Protocl to a minimum because, let’s face it, “a standardized framework for the machine-readable expression of permissions for access to and use of online content” just doesn’t have the same pizazz for publishers as “branded vertical categories,” which is what Time Inc. CEO Ann Moore led with immediately prior to Bide’s speech; Thomas Rubin just called Google a bunch of parasites who “create no content of their own, and make money solely on the backs of other people’s content;” Adobe CEO Bruce Chizen sits down with Random House VP and newly appointed AAP chair Richard Sarnoff for a friendly chat in which he warned the audience that “more people will access the web through non-PC devices than PC devices in five years,” and as of now America’s way behind the Japanese on that curve.

Because it was leaked to the media the day before the conference, Rubin’s excoriation of Google was the most publicly visible manifestation of the mutual love the publishers and the technology folks were showing each other all morning. Chizen got in some good points about how his company was concerned about the book search problem because the software industry is plagued by piracy even more than the publishing biz. Later, when Sarnoff prompted him on the interview’s stated theme, “publishing in the MySpace era,” Chizen replied, “I’m surprised by how quickly the social sites have taken off… Most of the content is junk,” he added, believing that traditional publishing companies will continue to act as the best and most trusted quality filters. “If you’re a publisher with credibility, readers know you’re going to filter out the garbage and publish only the best.” Sarnoff allowed as that was an “optimistic view,” but my immediate mental reaction was, “Dude, it’s not MySpace and YouTube that publishers have to compete with, it’s iUniverse.” And what do you know, during a break in the session I ran into iUniverse president Susan Driscoll, who agreed that “what we’re trying to do is give people to tools to create a professional product” while bypassing the traditional gatekeepers of the publishing biz. And I don’t need to remind you how major publishers have demonstrated time and time again that you can bring all sorts of crap to market if it looks professional enough…or, for that matter, how many good books they’ve missed the boat on that wound up at smaller presses, or how every once in a while a self-published author becomes the Next Big Thing.

But that wasn’t the only instance of the “we conglomerates still have a place in this world” mentality. As Ann Moore was going on about how she expected that People would become her company’s next huge online property, she took a moment to snark at the long tail theory, declaring that “small businesses offline will still be small businesses online.” Which, frankly, would seem to miss the whole point of the long tail—of course small media companies aren’t going to take away so many members of the “younger, better educated, higher income” online demographic that they’ll cripple Big Media; technology will just make it easier for those small companies to reach more consumers over a wider area without going broke. (In other words, a local company is only as local as it chooses to be.) Still, the publishers have definitely figured out that they’ve got to make some strong allies in the technology world, because the content is already migrating online and at this point it’s only a question of how much power they’ll be able to retain over it. Fortunately for the industry, some heavy tech players are quite willing to help them.

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