The second O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing conference ends today. And it is remarkable to see how much more vibrant this conference was compared to the first last summer. Yes, the first was in CA – close to the tech world that is supplying many of the "tools" but not to the greatest number in the publishing community, for whom these tools are meant. But I also believe that the publishing world has started to embrace the digital era more energetically, recognizing that it will transform the industry in untold ways, and attention needs to be paid.
The fear I have is that, in looking for ready solutions to the unknown, the industry is glomming on to buzzwords like "social networking" in the belief that cracking the social networking aspects for publishing will provide the easy solution. There is no question that social networking is one of the most important phenomena to emerge from the Web world in the last few years. The latest statistics from Technorati suggest that 1.4 blogs are started every second and it’s hard to have a successful site without a strong user-generated component. At SharedBook, we see this phenomenon in the number of stories and photos that are shared among our registrants and the active use of our collaborative functions.
But finding a way to integrate social networking into publishing models is not the panacea that some might be looking for. Its relevance will vary according to the need of the users.
Reading will always be primarily a solitary pursuit. How much one wants to network around content will be stronger for some than others.
At SharedBook, we believe that customization and personalization is as important a path as social networking, if not more so. If the Web has shown anything, it is that consumers want their content when they want it, in the way that they want to consume it.
Maybe it’s on a device, maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s chunked from various places and books and re-bound into a new volume. Maybe it has a digital flyleaf and other personalization; maybe this doesn’t matter. One thing we do know is that the traditional way of accessing and consuming reading material will be one choice among many and that the market will become more fragmented. But if it takes the path of filmed entertainment, it will ultimately be larger in aggregate than where it started.