At the last minute, I decided to drop everything and drop into the "Brainstorming The Future of Publishing" conference in St. Pete this last Thursday. The main reason I decided to do so was because I'd read that J.A. Konrath was attending and I was very interested in hearing what he had to say.
The conference is held by Novelists Inc, which is a group for traditionally and multi-published authors. Membership to which, I'm not currently qualified, being only published digitally. However, they were holding an open conference day to which anyone with $75 could attend and I was right interested in what was to be said.
It was extremely interesting and quite frankly, I'm only beginning to come to my final conclusions regarding the information presented.
The panels were mainly made of agents and traditional publishers. There were a few ePub people there, but not very many and to my thinking, not suitably passionate about defending their venue. This could be because the attendees by definition had to be published in print. I cannot say. Everyone was interested in hearing about ePublishing, but most of them seemed skeptical. Particularly the authors and particular the big pub reps that don't make that much of an investment in digital.
But my main conclusion is this; even at this moment in time, despite what we have learned from Apple and Google and Amazon, and the very important lessons of their successes is this: the traditional publishers are selling books. They are not selling content. They are not selling experiences. They are not selling stories. They are not selling information. They are STILL selling physical books, objects, things of paper and glue.
And I'm normally pretty quiet about my Cassandra moments, but I dare say that this is going to bite them in the ass and bite them in the ass big time. In fact, I believe one of the agents stated that when he considered what publishing would look like in five years, he imagined that at least one of the big 6 would be owned by Amazon or Google.
My guess is that it will happen because they're still selling things - rather than content. Even though Google and Amazon and Apple have become exceedingly rich and powerful by selling content. And even though most of us have discovered fantastic new stories; movies, books, songs, bands, friends, lovers, husbands and wives, jobs, vacations, tv shows, homes, cars and collectible beanie babies through the collective consciousness of the internet - they are still selling books. Despite the fact that during an economic downturn people want to pay a low price for an escapist or pleasant experience, as temporary as it may be, rather than invest in objects and things that can't be easily carried from a foreclosed home. As a digital publisher, I find this very... comforting.
Digital-firsts apparently aren't a threat to them at all. Despite the fact that most of us digitals realize that what our artists have to offer is what people want - an experience: content. A physical copy can be obtained, if desired, but what people really want - and the whole reason they have ever read or purchased books - is an experience, information, stories, worlds, ideas, concepts. Owning a book is nice, but without a compelling story, a world to immerse yourself into, fresh ideas, new perspectives, ideas, concepts and characters to become emotionally attached to, a book is nothing but a piece of dead tree.
I enjoyed this "Future of Publishing" conference day. I enjoyed it quite a bit, thank you.
More about what JA Konrath had to say later...