O’Reilly TOC Conference Focuses on Practical Digital Resources

The first O'Reilly Tools of Change (TOC) Conference, held in June 2007, generated a huge buzz in the book publishing industry. Focused on the emergence of new publishing models from innovative technologies, the TOC conference brought together the visionaries of tech and of publishing. Manolis Kelaidis's (Royal College of Art) demonstration of his synthesis of analog and digital—a paper book printed with conductive ink and bound with circuitry to allow for hyperlinked text—was certainly the high-water mark of excitement and energy.

In February 2008, O'Reilly hosted a second TOC Conference, one that generated far less buzz. One thing that became clear is that the publishing industry is moving on from visionary statements to the decidedly less sexy and more productive work of integrating new technologies and models into the cycle of scholarly communications. To some degree, not all the panels had yet caught up to this spirit of how-to (rather than what-if, how-cool, and try-me!), although there was interesting information to be gleaned from every panel.

Presentation slides from many sessions can be downloaded via the TOC web site. Panels included an overview of the DRM mistakes of the music industry and discussion of how the publishing world might avoid the same; several looks at new digital marketing and distribution strategies, such as widgets and content designed for mobile devices; and examinations of how blogs and books are being integrated across authoring, reviewing, and marketing spheres.

One interesting tension was between the continued pressure to deliver free digital content (Tim O'Reilly's keynote, "Free is More Complicated Than You Think"), and the suggested strategy of producing high-value, high-priced digital content (Scott Gray, O'Reilly School of Technology, "Adding Enough Value to Digital Content to Actually Make Money"). Obviously, the balance that can and will be struck between these two poles of digital content delivery will be different for various publishing sectors and content groups—it will be no news flash to AAUP members that infotainment and scholarly communications will always have different drivers. It is clear that how to best serve the authors and readers in each sector is still the most pressing challenge for publishers, one that will not be solved by the emergence of any one single technology or model.

Related upcoming conferences include the STM Book 2.02 Seminar ("Now it Gets Real: Making, Selling, Distributing, Discovering and Using E-Books") and, for the eyes-on-the-horizon vision to the hands-on-the-day-to-day ideas, the AAUP Annual Meeting ("Preserving the Future").

Brenna McLaughlin
Electronic & Strategic Initiatives Director, AAUP