Last week I spent a busy couple of days connecting with the publishing community at O’Reilly’s Tools of Change for Publishing Conference in New York. It’s been a few years since we’ve attended this show, but with our recent surge in publishing related projects, I felt it was a great venue to hear what others were doing and what emerging trends we should keep our eyes on.
The overwhelming message from the show was that “The book is not dead”. The format that’s been around for the past 500 years is not going anywhere. However, there are tons of new market opportunities around the book that publishers must begin experimenting with new business opportunities. What publishers need to keep in mind is their core focus and their business objectives. Technology providers are pushing publishers to quickly adopt new technology, in some cases, even before it is fully ready for mass adoption. A good example of this is the new draft specification for the ePub 3 standard that leverages rich elements based on HTML5 and CSS3. This standard does provide so much more for publishers, but there are significant limitations, as the functionalities of these technologies only really work in Safari or iBooks, which severely limits the publisher’s market. What publishers need to realize is that HTML5 is a continuum, that will roll out in progressive implementations and will take years for all features to be supported by all browsers. It’s a great direction but is still in its early days.
The other interesting message I took home from TOC was that there is no magic bullet for publishers in terms of technology choice. From the outside, it appears that the big players like Adobe are well entrenched and have the market cornered, but the reality is that most publishers are leveraging free and open source technologies and are building their own package of solutions. This may be a result of the fact that the current ePub standard is quite loose, with lots of room for interpretation. Publishers’ approaches and results can vary greatly yet still be in compliance.
Mobile content delivery is also an area that I had many conversations about, particularly packaging books as stand-alone applications for tablet devices. Many publishers, particularly those that don’t concentrate on periodicals, are struggling with their strategy for developing mobile apps and are questioning the business value they deliver versus the cost to develop. Many book publishers are taking a wait and see approach and are looking for examples of successful implementations from peers.
Overall, it was a very interesting show with some great takeaways.