Be present. Be proactive. Be ready to talk. Ask questions.
Except for being held on a Sunday, yesterday’s New York City Book^2 Camp had all the right elements for a great conference: smart people, cozy setting, open discussions and zero barriers. Anyone can pitch a session for one of the 20 slots on the schedule grid, and they’re intended to be interactive dialogs as opposed to the usual “experts on the stage” model. It’s more common in the tech industry, but as the lines continue to blur between publishing and technology, it’s a great format for the two worlds to come together without the formal structure (and compromising overhead) of a traditional conference.
At the last Book Camp, I didn’t pitch anything, opting to participate from the crowd, and it was an interesting experience, with far more good discussions than cringe-worthy ones, mainly because the interactive format encourages that. Of course, that doesn’t mean I didn’t break out the #cmonson now and then, particularly whenever the discussion turned to engaging readers and building brands, but it was coupled with being vocal in the sessions themselves, a bit of nuance that’s sometimes lost on those following along from home on Twitter.
This time around, I decided to pitch something, putting “Community Engagement and Development – Real Talk” on the agenda, and offering up my take on community organizing from a publishing perspective. Every argument that begins with “But most readers…” ignores the reality that the Internet has made micro-marketing not only viable, but also enables a publishing program to be more sustainable, focusing on quality over quantity.
After speeding through a condensed version of my community development slides (embedded below), the discussion turned to branding and niches and the fundamental idea of “know thy reader” and having clear goals.
Three examples I offered up were:
- It’s not about size, it’s about goals. I showed a graph comparing the unique site visitors for goodreads.com, io9.com, tor.com, baen.com, and subterraneanpress.com, making the point that while Goodreads has the broadest reach, and io9 trumps the latter three in traffic, the others’ multiple revenue streams (books, ebooks, limited edition products) make the need for massive eyeballs less critical even though they’re all serving the same niche.
- Understanding the web is everybody’s job. Last week, Folio: had a great article on Interweave, noting the niche publisher had certified half of its staff, across a variety of publishing disciplines, through Mequoda Pro’s Content Marketing Certification Program. Most publishers expect their staff to learn these new skills on their own time, but Interweave made the investment themselves, and that sends a far stronger message about how important these skills really are.
- Your content strategy should have measurable results. There’s been talk for years about online video, and how publishers and authors should be leveraging it for vague marketing purposes, usually prefaced with the mandate to “create a viral video.” Open Road Integrated Media has taken video to whole ‘nother level, and I didn’t fully get it until last week when I realized they were using a proprietary video player that not only gives them great analytics, but also allows them to embed a “Buy the Ebook” link. Instead of generating traffic and ad impressions for Google via YouTube, they’re able to feed great content to sites like The Huffington Post, tapping into topical issues and leveraging that exposure into measurable sales, as with the recent Black History Month controversy that put their William Styron ebook, Confessions of Nat Turner, front and center.
One of the most interesting highlights of the day was watching the effect of having a genuine publishing celebrity (as opposed to just “Twitter famous”) in the room, as Margaret Atwood became a focal point of every session she attended, not just because she’s a famous writer, but because she was fully present, proactive, ready to talk, and asking a lot of questions. We were in the same session at the end of the day, Network Convergence, where Kevin Shockey attempted to make an argument for embracing free culture, making a couple of interesting points that never got fully explored as the discussion devolved a bit into the “true” effects of piracy (no one really knows), and whether or not it’s feasible to try and stop it (depends).
Noting the Internet’s original purpose, to survive a nuclear war, and that, by design, it’s built to “route around failure,” Shockey offered an interesting twist: the merging of business networks with social networks — aka, the holy grail of social media marketing and social commerce — has actually encouraged piracy, or sharing, and that there really is no way to stop it. He referenced Egypt and Mubarak’s attempt to quell the revolution by shutting down the Internet, suggesting that it failed because you can’t shut down the “social network.” The Egyptians routed around failure, figuratively and literally.
The session fell apart, though, when it drifted into the flawed authors as bands analogy, giving away content for free to make money in other ways, like merchandising, readings, etc. Having Atwood in the room immediately took it from the theoretical to the practical, putting Tim O’Reilly’s “obscurity is worse than piracy” mantra in perspective:
“Who’s going to pay for my cheese sandwich?”
I propose a new rule: From now on, all “future of publishing conferences” should be moderated by Margaret Atwood. Real talk, indeed!
UPDATED: Atwood’s keynote at TOC was AWESOME and it’s on YouTube. Writers, publishers and techies should all watch it in its entirety and take notes. Love her!!!
This week, I’ll be at the Tools of Change conference on Tuesday and Wednesday, and I’m planning to bring a little bit of the (f)Unconference mindset and Atwood’s real talk approach to the sessions I attend. More importantly, though, I’m planning to make more time to talk to people outside of sessions because the ultimate value of any conference is tapping into the collective intelligence in the room.
If you’re attending TOC, be sure to say hello!