One Time…at BookCamp…
Yesterday I was fortunate to have one of those cool Toronto Saturdays where the stars aligned with a plethora of interesting activities (plethora is my $20 word of the day). The shot above is a collection of highlights from the day, starting with a soul-satisfying brunch at the retro diner, Fran’s, followed by a savvy professional learning conference for folks like me in the publishing industry called BookCamp TO held at Ryerson (home of the ghoul of Gould Street in the collage). I topped my day off in the same neighbourhood with a publishing-themed documentary about the New York Times at the newly re-opened gem of a theatre, The Carleton that resides just up the street from the former Toronto house of hockey, Maple Leaf Gardens.
You might wonder why I would spend a Saturday devoted to what is essentially my job during the week, publishing. Well, for me it is not a job. It is a passion! I am certain I am not alone in this. Publishing seems to draw like-minded folks who adore all things to do with the written word, in what-ever form, digital, print… you name it, we love it! I attended BookCamp Toronto last year for the first time and I remember wondering why I hadn’t attended before. It was an awesome experience to gather under the same roof with editors, authors, sellers, marketers, bloggers etc from across the publishing world here in Canada to learn about our collective experience in an industry that is literally being turned on its ear. The theme of last year’s conference was “We’ve Gone Digital, Now What?” and this year’s conference theme was similar, “The Future is Now” but with a decidedly different buzz in the session rooms. Perhaps the biggest change between last year’s event and this year’s is the advent of the iPad, coupled with the meteoric rise of e-reading. With the rise of e-reading (and the decline in print sales) has come the debates over pricing, the value of content, and the definition of the word “book” and even “reading”. In one short year we went from discussing the production challenges of turning print into digital, to debating the value of the content itself. The deeper undercurrent that made yesterday’s buzz seem tinged with immediacy is the larger question that stems from all of these debates: does the publishing industry still have value in the eyes of our customers? Are we still relevant in this new age of gadgets, widgets, blogs and free content? Is there still room for the intelligent curator of content, a mantle book and newspaper publishers have long worn with pride? If you asked anyone at Ryerson these questions yesterday, you would have been met with a confident, determined and emphatic “yes! Of course! and here’s how…” coupled with a collective rolling up of sleeves. Indeed much has changed in the past year, but I can say from personal experience that publishers are innovating and adapting at a rate that would make your head spin (trust me, it makes ours spin!) with the end goal of providing readers with the best experience possible, no matter the format or device.
This is not an easy road, and there has been and will continue to be casualties along the way that will break our hearts but not our backs. I must recommend a documentary I saw at the end of the conference yesterday: Page One: A Year in the Life of the New York Times, as an example (an in your face example for sure) of the challenges publishers are facing. Long an institution in the US, this past year saw the NY Times face a series of hurdles that nearly crippled the news giant: Wiki Leaks, loss of revenue and readership due to free news aggregators, and a huge round of layoffs never before experienced at The Times. I will admit here that even though this documentary was engrossing, it was tough to watch, as all publishing houses are being asked to do more with less. I left the Carleton deep in thought and managed to walk all the way down to Queen Street before I realized where I was. It is clear that if the publishing industry hopes to remain relevant, the drive to innovate coupled with the commitment to create the best reading experience is a non-negotiable.
How did my evening end? After a long Saturday devoted to debate over the future of publishing, I came home to a timely note from my sister Jen on Facebook. She wrote, and I quote: “Happiness is reading a good book on the porch listening to a thunderstorm roll in.” (I’m proud to say the good book is The Help from Penguin, the trade wing of the publisher I work for). Thanks to all of the avid readers out there – we appreciate you more than you can possibly know!
If you’re interested, here’s the link to my write-up from last year’s BookCamp TO. Have a great rest of your weekend!