To get a sense of how the digital revolution has transformed publishing over the past decade, just listen to Mark Coker and Larry Downes talk shop for a few minutes.
Coker, a Silicon Valley veteran, couldn’t get his and his wife’s novel published, so in 2008 he launched Smashwords, an electronic book-distribution website that now carries almost 180,000 titles.
Publishers used to control the printing presses, the distribution channels and the knowledge to make it all work, Coker said. “Now all those tools have been democratized,” he said. Soon, Coker predicted, self-published e-books will dominate best-seller lists.
Downes had a New York Times best-seller in 1998, “Unleashing the Killer App: Digital Strategies for Market Dominance,” but he is now utterly disdainful of the traditional publishing apparatus. He said most publicists, editors, agents and other publishing characters are “sycophants and parasites” and that the legacy publishing industry is “whistling in the dark while rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”
“There’s very little left that I value from the existing industry structures,” he said.
Coker and Downes spoke Wednesday at Mini Tools of Change Charleston, a one-day conference put on by California-based tech media company O’Reilly and Charleston’s BiblioLabs, a local on-demand publisher and app-maker.
The conference, held at the Hippodrome next to the S.C. Aquarium, just downstairs from BiblioLabs offices, drew more than 100 librarians, publishers and technologists from around the country and abroad, many of whom are also in town for the annual Charleston Conference.
They listened in the dim room before their glowing laptops, iPads and iPhones as panelists on stage discussed the 21st-century library, new ways to parse and share books, and how all of it should be bought and paid for.
Margot Lyon, director of business development for the American Theological Library Association, traveled from Chicago for the one-day O’Reilly-BiblioLabs conference as well as the 32nd Charleston Conference, “Issues in Book and Serial Acquisition,” which continues today at the Francis Marion hotel.
As a librarian who manages sales, marketing and licensing for the ATLA’s stable of religion experts and their writings, Lyon is on the lookout for “the next big thing.”
“I like coming to these conferences because it helps me think about the future,” she said.
Some of the most intriguing possibilities involve indexing books to achieve maximal usability or making reading and discovering books a social activity.
Small Demons, Los Angeles-based venture capital-backed start-up, is representative of both of those trends. The website has scoured popular books for references to other books, music, people, places and cars, among other things. It then presents that research in an easily navigable way on one page.
Richard Nash, a company executive, demonstrated how a reader of Nick Hornby’s “High Fidelity” could find out how and where Bob Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde” was mentioned in the book. From there, she could click to other books that also referenced that album.
“So effectively it becomes a dive down the rabbit hole from book to song to book to bar … and on and on,” Nash explained, calling it “ex post facto product placement.”
There are more barriers to be broken, such as those imposed by Amazon and its Kindle, but eventually there could be a time when consumers can seamlessly float from books to movies to maps of places mentioned in those media.
“It will be a wild time when that starts happening,” Nash said.
Reach Brendan Kearney at 937-5906 and follow him on Twitter at @kearney_brendan.