This is the last post on New York City--I promise! But the real reason we were there was to learn more about what is happening in the book publishing business, and this was the first overtly non-Christian conference of this sort that I attended, so it was a little like going to Babylon for an education. But there is much that can be learned from Babylon, as long as we use discernment.
The keynote speaker of the Book Business Expo was Jeffrey Cole, director of the Center for the Digital Future, who discussed the implications of Internet use for book publishing. The good news is that reading books on-line is still not popular, but I suspect that reading books in general is not popular, based on my research of the two teens living in my home. But Dr. Cole believes that some book reading will go on, so we all heaved a collective sigh of relief.
Next I attended a session on repurposing content, again with a view to the Internet. When a book publisher repurposes content, it takes already existing material and repackages it, and in this case attention was given to taking a printed product to a different print format. It was in this session that I learned my favorite buzz phrase of the conference: digital natives. Digital natives are people who are age 25 and younger, and if anyone 25 or younger lives in your home, I don't need to go any further in explaining this term. Of course the strategies of repackaging content now for the Internet are critical, and publishers need to make sure that the content they're providing is visible to the search engines, a strategy known as SEO (search engine optimization).
Later sessions addressed "The Long Tail," which is a reference to a popular book among publishers that prescribes strategies for publishers to take advantage of sales of their backlists, or those titles that have been around for awhile. The new trend there is print-on-demand publishing, where publishers rid themselves of inventory and its expenses by hooking up with a printer that functions kind of like a glorified Kinko's. When a retailer runs out of one of your titles, they contact the printer, who has the appropriate files and prints off as many copies of a book as needed. The printer receives an order by 2:00 in the afternoon, and by 4:30 a.m. the books are printed and shipped. As one print-on-demand company rep told M. and me, there are no longer any out-of-print books because as long as files exist, a person can always obtain any book he or she wants. An interesting idea, but the costs per unit at this point are holding most publishers back, even though we were assured that all would balance out because the need for inventory and its storage would be eliminated.
On Tuesday, after a rather lengthy keynote advertisement for Google, I attended an interesting session on how to crash a book. In this case, a senior editor from Vintage Books who looked like he was about 25 told his adventure story of turning around "The Iraq Report" in 24 days. An interesting adventure story for an editor! I did attend a session on the practical use of XML. I'm still not sure what it is, but I know that if our publishing company has any hopes of survival, we'd better have it.
It was an excellent learning experience, and it was the first publishing conference I've attended where the major theme was not trying to reach Gen X, a problem most major Christian publishers seem to obsess over. It was a breath of fresh air. The theme of this conference seemed to be a more direct approach--any form of media that hopes to survive with any age group must learn to take advantage of the Internet. It was a great learning experience that inspired some interesting ideas for the three of us who attended from our publishing house.