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Publishing Unbound, Google-Style

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A crowd more than 300-strong gathered at the New York Public Library‘s Celeste Bartos Room for Google‘s all-day Unbound conference to be told, in no uncertain terms by an array of speakers, that if you’re not moving with the digital times, you’re just not a 21st century publisher. I paraphrase, of course, but that was certainly the vibe in the air what with Seth Godin comparing publishers to outlying planets, Cory Doctorow (on the fiction side) and Daniel Weiss (on the educational side) explaining why giving content away is a good thing, and Tim O’Reilly advocating for Google Book Search as a way of capturing the almost 75% of books that aren’t accounted for by not being in print or in the public domain.

Aside from Godin and Doctorow, Chris Anderson was on hand to give an abbreviated spiel of his bestselling THE LONG TAIL, Stephen Dubner (of Freakonomics fame) talked about how the related website – now a blog with additional content features – brings in over 2 million page views a month, and J.A. Konrath stressed the importance of having “things to offer” instead of “things to sell” on an author website. But the big hit of the afternoon – at least, judging by applause – was Josh Kilmer-Purcell, who used Powerpoint in hilarious fashion to describe how MySpace hooked him up with fellow members of the Memoirist Collective. And for those who need help interpreting the slide, Kilmer-Purcell illustrated how his book, I AM NOT MYSELF THESE DAYS, was published by HarperPerennial, which is part of HarperCollins, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, who owns “half the world” – and when the Judith Regan graphic cued up, the room erupted in laughter…


There was a ton of food for thought (as well as food, what with breakfast, lunch and cocktails provided free of charge) at the all-day conference, especially near the end as various publishers, from Pearson to Springer to Taylor & Francis to HarperCollins, described how they were getting in on the digital publishing front. HC, with its digital warehouse and niche-specific sites like Avon FanLit and HarperTeen Lit, clearly have a sense of what direction they want to move in to control their book holdings, while the idea that caught my attention the most was the e-book rental, where textbooks could be bought for specific time periods of a day, a week, a month or more for commensurate prices. But what especially hit home was how publishing is not best served by a conglomerate approach – because how can one model be applicable for education, science/technology/medicine, non-fiction and fiction? Answer: it can’t. Google Book Search is brilliant for some sectors and iffy for some, and to offer a blanket approach is ultimately pointless. But the good news is that change definitely seemed to be in the air; a couple of folks seemed hell-bent to argue with speakers (O’Reilly handled one talkative fellow who kept harping on how Book Search and libraries would ruin things) but hopefully, as 2007 rolls on, the advantages to a more open-source methodology will become ever clearer for the publishing industry.

I didn’t make it to the morning edition, but CNET’s Caroline McCarthy and DM News’ Dianna Dilworth summarize what happened – and no doubt Michael Cader will be following suit in Publishers Lunch Today…

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