“I suppose we could sum up this entire two-day conference under the headline ‘too early to tell.’”
I attended MediaBistro’s eBook Summit this week and Wasserman’s summation is perfect; consumer book publishing is smack in the middle of the digital transition, and solid answers about how it will all play out are hard to come by. That doesn’t mean, of course, that there aren’t plenty of people willing to throw their two cents (and millions of VC dollars) into the conversation.
While ostensibly a competitive event with Digital Book World, my sense was that both the program and attendees were very different from ours — the former more theoretical and broader; the latter… well, just different, I’d say. There’s clearly room for both events, which I was actually glad to see, because I’m a fan of MediaBistro and I don’t want the wonderful Carmen Scheidel getting mad at me after we just became friends!
I live-tweeted both days of the Summit — Day 1 and Day 2 (sorry LiveJournal friends!) — and after cleansing my palette by reading more of the latest issue of Monocle (an absolutely beautiful example of what can and should be done only in print), here’s my top five takeaways:
1) If Jane Friedman weren’t involved in Open Road Integrated Media, no one would be talking about it. The underlying business model isn’t revolutionary, and at this point is largely theoretical. I was particularly surprised to hear her say that they weren’t going to do direct-to-consumer sales, especially on the heels of announcing Rachel Chou as their CMO, but someone representing them in the comment section of the announcement on eBooknewser suggested it’s in their plans.
Takeaway #1: Jeffrey Sharp’s presence, and DTC not being a priority, suggests movie deals, not eBooks, are their real angle, a la the infamous Scott Rosenberg and Platinum Studios. (Hopefully, for their authors’ sakes, they’ll have a smoother ride.)
2) Of all the new ideas presented at the Summit, Lisa Holton, Founder & CEO of Fourth Story Media, was the only one I was really excited by and wanted to learn more about. She also offered one of the best quotes of the Summit: “My audience right now, they’re not reading on a Kindle, so I don’t care.”
Takeaway #2: Know your audience. Know both who they are and where they are, and then focus your time and resources accordingly; don’t be distracted by every new shiny that comes down the pike.
3) Corporate execs are rarely exciting, or excitable, speakers. Also, self-identifying as “an outsider” can backfire if you really are an outsider. Alternatively, executives who are closer to the ground are often the most exciting speakers. Exhibit A: Sony’s Steve Haber. Exhibit B: Books on Board’s Bob Livolsi.
Takeaway #3: Haber was a classic example of old school PR and corporate communications — arms-length, vague, stay on message — while Livolsi was the perfect example of having a flesh-and-blood human representing a company.
4) Steve Wasserman was perhaps my favorite speaker over the two days, both for his excellent soundbites and his pragmatic perspective on things. I want to see him and Richard Nash on a panel together, in a no-holds-barred conversation about the past, present and future of publishing. I’d pay good money to see that. (Or, perhaps that’s an idea for a future DBW webinar…?)
Takeaway #4: “Publishing was never a business based on Wharton standards. It was a rich boy’s hobby.”
5) It’s feels like technology, not readers, is driving the conversation about the future of publishing. There’s far too much emphasis on the never-ending supply of tools and not nearly enough on the actual demand for them. Too many new ideas with no business model or revenue plan being touted as “the future of publishing”. From Haber’s “Gee whiz! eReaders are cool!” (not an actual quote) to obsessions with Twitter, the mythical iUnicorn, and [insert new shiny du jour], it was refreshing to hear Livolsi offer some specific data, and I’m really looking forward to hearing more about the Bowker/BISG study on “Consumer Attitudes Toward eBook Reading“. (Though, really, can we stop referring to readers “consumers”?)
Takeway #5: It’s not about the tools. Kindle beat Sony Reader primarily because they had the direct consumer connection and trust. One-click. Done. Tech fetishists overlook the power of a direct relationship with customers. That’s Amazon’s real advantage. (Apple’s, too.)
The final takeaway, and always the best part of any good conference, is the people you meet, and I was glad to have met a number of smart people; some I already knew from Twitter, some I met for the first time. The conversations that happen between sessions and over drinks, away from the microphones (and webcams and tweets!), are where the really innovative ideas are being discussed, shared and shaped. A good conference sparks those conversations.
Kudos to MediaBistro on a successful inaugural event!
And now, the countdown to Digital Book World hits the home stretch…