The Roundtable is a live, interactive webcast gathering some of the most outspoken industry professionals to debate the hottest publishing issues of the week, as being discussed in traditional media, the blogiverse and on Twitter. From celebrity book deals to eBook rights and pricing to [insert YOUR pet topic here] — if it’s related to books, it’s on the agenda.
Topic: #SXSW Interactive Takeaways
This episode of The Roundtable was webcast live at 1pm EST on Thursday, March 18, 2010.
Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, Dir. of Programming & Business Development, Digital Book World
I asked him about some of the publishing panel’s predictions for the future, that authors will have to become better self-promoters and publishers Hollywood-style development offices. That unrelenting advertisement and pursuit of followers saddened Lanier a little bit. “Writing and thinking is not economically sustainable,” he said. Authors may survive only through “long tail distribution,” he mused. “But if it requires you to be a master politician, then your writing becomes political.” He worries about the loss of individual voice with a crowd-sourced book, just another mash-up in a Wikipedia world where “everything loses meaning.”
He found hope, though, in the panel’s suggestion that publishers may finally make an end run around the traditional intermediaries of the business and reach out more directly to readers. For Lanier, everything comes down to human contact. His answer to my question about what role a publisher plays today shocked me enormously. “Even if no distribution function existed in publishing,” he said, “there is value in their particulars as people.”
It was nice, then, to end the day with a panel of publishing experts who were neither reactionaries nor doom-sayers. The centerpiece of the New Publishing and Web Content panel was the Amanda Project from Fourth Story Media. An experiment in bridging the best aspects of Web and print, the site invites young women to contribute to an ongoing book series about a character named Amanda.
The project doesn’t spell out the end of traditional book publishing as much as demonstrate another avenue. Lisa Holton, whose tenure in publishing often crossed over into new media, suggested that we should all take a step back from bashing publishers simply because they can’t turn on a dime. Holton and her co-panelists (including Web design guru Jeffrey Zeldman) pointed out that the publishing process may seem unwieldy and redundant from the sidelines, but it holds tremendous intrinsic value beyond nostalgia. The world hasn’t necessarily passed publishing by, it just has created multiple new intersecting markets. What’s wrong with that?
This was one of the best discussions of the Festival, with Happy Cog’s Jeffrey Zeldman moderating a well-balanced panel that didn’t always see eye-to-eye, but were extremely passionate about their topic. Fourth Story Media’s Lisa Holton did an excellent job of representing the “new” while offering a nice counter to Etsy’s Mandy Brown, who opted for the tiresome “traditional publishers are slow and stupid” meme. As Zeldman noted (and Lanier later confirmed), there is plenty to learn from traditional publishing, including content strategies, curation and editorial insight. Erin Kissane arguably made the most important point of the entire festival, though: “Content is very expensive to make. We need to start talking about that honestly.”