A Book Conference You Can Attend in Your Bathrobe

Richard CurtisBy Richard Curtis, President of Richard Curtis Associates, Inc.; founder of E-Reads

After the eruption of Iceland’s unpronounceable volcano disrupted the London Book Fair last month, Publishing Perspectives’ editor Ed Nawotka wondered why “no one is trying to find a way to teleconference people in or to schedule online chats,” and asked if there was any interest in a virtual book conference.

This is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time.

Technology and bandwidth have advanced to the point where it is entirely feasible to mount a virtual trade conference, one that would be fully participatory for traditional and e-book publishers, booksellers, librarians, educators, literary agents, authors, book-related exhibitors and their technology counterparts – plus the most important attendee of them all, readers; all from the comfort of their homes, offices or commute. Virtual trade shows are a common practice in many other industries, and there have already been a couple of virtual book fairs including Virtual Children’s Book Fair and the Poisoned Pen Mystery Writers conference which included a number of live and on-demand webcasts of “more than 50 panels and presentations featuring over 65 mystery and crime authors.”

While both examples are relatively modest, it proves it could be done, and the model can be scaled upwards for a full-fledged virtual book expo that participants could attend in their bathrobes!

Virtual Trade Show BoothWhile the main event itself could be of short duration, it could easily morph into a 24/7/365 marketplace centered around books and authors, publishers, booksellers, bloggers AND readers; a kind of “Second Life” for the book publishing industry. It could be a combination website, bazaar, and social gaming environment where real business is done, books are bought and sold, but with a high fun quotient limited only by the technical skills of art departments, web designers and graphic artists, and the boundless imagination of the publishing industry.

What do you think? Is publishing ready to go beyond eBooks and take the digital transition to the next level?

Richard Curtis, president of Richard Curtis Associates, Inc., is a leading New York literary agent; founder of E-Reads, an electronic book publisher; and a well-known author advocate. He is also the author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction including several books about the publishing industry and is a former president of the Association of Authors’ Representatives.

13 thoughts on “A Book Conference You Can Attend in Your Bathrobe

  1. DonLinn

    Interesting that this posted today as I spoke with a major UK publisher earlier this morning and he told me the LBF/ashcloud experience, during and after which they did workarounds with GoToMeeting, conference calls, etc., had made them re-evaluate their entire conference/trade show approach (and budget) going forward. They realized how non-essential most of what they were doing there was. I’ve felt this way about BEA for years.

  2. Laura Dawson

    Richard, totally totally agreed. Not simply because of the constraints of distance, but also of time! There are so many conferences proliferating – and so many of them are incredibly useful and valuable – but travel/calendar-ing/follow-up is so time-consuming. Having a virtual event allows you to check in and check out, and save hours upon hours of time that would otherwise be spent…unproductively.

  3. Babette Ross

    I think this is a fantastic idea, while there are clear advantages to seeing people in person a virtual trade show would allow more people to take part. A smaller scale comparison would be big six publishers doing (some of) their sales conferences virtually. And I love the notion of bringing readers into the mix – I’m all for exposing the wizard behind the curtain.

  4. Cecilia Tan

    Maybe Digital Book World online is already morphing into our publishing version of Second Life? We just need the avatars and Gibson-esque backgrounds …

  5. Lauren

    I think this is a great idea. Attending big conferences is such a huge expense, that some people really can’t afford to do it, and doing one online would cut costs down enormously. In addition, when you have some writers like me who are disabled, getting around is much more difficult than for the average person. The technology is definitely there, but are publishers and major companies also ready to jump on board this bandwagon?

  6. cassle

    I’m completely agree with virtual conference, especially for books. But on the other hand, it’s quite hard for a person like me which has a rather slow internet connection, to follow a virtual conference like in SecondLife.

  7. Heather

    Absolutely agreed. As well as the savings in expenses, travel time, and jet lag, this approach would result in a greatly reduced carbon footprint. I think this approach is an intelligent and responsible use of technology, and sends a very positive message. It could be a great example for other sectors too.

  8. Daryl Slaton

    I agree that a virtual book conference is a good idea. As an illustrator and animator already working in digital media, this would be a natural fit.

    I’m sure that some people could not participate in the conference because of a poor internet connection, but lots of people can’t get to physical conferences either. The virtual book conference would have to be structured so that virtual attendees could find each other by name and classification (agent, publisher, author, illustrator, etc). Conferences like BEA are good but can be a bit chaotic.

  9. Lindsey Thomas Martin

    Certainly something that should be tried. It could very well become an interesting piece of presentational theatre. I suggest you spread the main event over several days and schedule presentations between, say, 10am and 3pm eastern for the sake of those on the West coast and in Europe.

  10. James Byrd

    It’s been done. We’ve put on a virtual conference called the Self-Publishers Online Conference (SPOC – Live Long and Publish!) for two years now. We still have modest attendance (300+ last year and 400+ this year), but we’ve gotten great feedback from the authors and small publishers who attended the conference. We had 15 speakers both years, many of whom also speak at BEA, including Mark Victor Hansen, Dan Poynter, Penny Sansevieri, Peter Bowerman, John Kremer, just to name a few.

    This year we added more interactive features to the conference, including a discussion forum for each seminar and virtual roundtable sessions on each day of the conference. At this point, the seminars are audio-only, so the bandwidth requirements are minimal. We integrate Instant Teleseminar into the site for web audio access, but you can also listen on the telephone. Some speakers did use handouts (such as Powerpoint presentations), which we made available to attendees as a PDF download.

    We even had a virtual exhibit hall. Most of our speakers had a “booth” in the exhibit hall with information about their offerings. We also had paid exhibitors who didn’t present but wanted access to our audience. Our “virtual badge swipe” lets attendees request more information about an exhibit without having to fill out a contact form.

    We have the advantage of being both book publishers and software publishers, so I created the software that drives the conference myself.

    Check it out if you are interested in knowing more:

    You can get a glimpse of what it looks like inside on this page:

    James H. Byrd
    Vice President
    Logical Expressions, Inc.

  11. Erik

    I like this, attended something similar that Book Business put on.. at least I believe it was them, so many online events. Anyways this would be great, for many reasons, some of those being cost. I’d love to attend BEA and connect with many of those I know in the industry and others I have connected with via twitter, DBW or other online ventures. Not being there I feel I may lose out on some great conversations and areas where many of us could get together.

    I like the idea of listening to speakers (who’ll probably be in their bathrobes as well if virtual) throw in some avatars of everyone and allow real time interaction, Q&A, ability to record sessions not at and connect with hundreds if not thousands of readers and industry professionals makes sense. Publishers keep saying they want to give their readers what they want, well, here’s your chance.


  12. India Drummond

    I love this, and would definitely want to go to a virtual book conference. I live in a small village in Scotland… not a lot of conferences up here! Even if there were, I have physical limitations that mean getting around at conferences would be extremely difficult for me.

    My husband has attended several Microsoft conferences online, and loves the experience. I was wishing just recently that I could do the same thing!

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