This Saturday, Cheese and I (along with my friend Kevin) attended BookCampTO, a grassroots “unconference,” whose mandate was to have “A conversation about the future of books, writing, publishing, and the book business in the digital age.”
So, while I didn’t bring my laptop and tweet throughout the day, here are a few summaries, observations and memorable quotations for the day:
7:15 – Alarm goes off. Linger in bed out of resentment to be getting up at work time on a Saturday.
8:00 – Cheese arrives grumbling. Make her coffee and toast with nutella, and she is temporarily placated (the girl will do almost anything for nutella).
8:10 – My friend Kevin arrives. He is a brave soul who is not in publishing but is interested in books, digital media and pop culture in general, and who comes with non-nutella-induced enthusiasm.
8:52 – Arrive at the iSchool for registration, which runs as smoothly and quickly as at most regular conferences. Well done, BCTO team.
9:15 – First session on DRM ends up being a throwdown by some of the female powerhouses of publishing. Try to get over exhilarating “fly on the wall” feeling. (As it turns out, DRM are three letters which can get people hot under the collar in just about any session throughout the day. Kev and I referred to it as the “DRM bomb”).
9:17 – The big question succinctly stated: how to achieve “freely disseminated information, but not for free.”
9:20 – Thanks to Morgan Cowie for important distinctions between DRM at a retail level and at a publisher level. Most seem to agree that it’s ridiculous at a retail level if it restricts use of content to only one device.
9:24 – Someone brings up the book industry/music industry comparison. Much eye rolling ensues, since of course, the comparison is quite faulty, especially when it is reasserted by a couple prominent publishers that nobody really wants to meet authors…and they don’t want to meet you.
9:33 – I struggle with the contention that people only break DRM and pirate out of frustration that content is encrypted in the first place. I think this is an overly optimistic view of my generation’s sense of entitlement to free content. Besides, one person breaking the code and posting it isn’t the entire problem, it’s that people don’t have any problem downloading it and using it.
9:40 – Someone suggests a micropayments idea, which in theory, I like, though how it would work, I’m not sure.
9:50 – Someone throws out the word “assholic.” I’m impressed not only by this adjective, but by the general heated involvement around the room.
9:52 – Sarah MacLachlan brings up Anansi’s success with their limited time offer of free ebooks this fall. It generated huge publicity and a sales increase. Sure, I’m behind that. Though of course that kind of thing still qualifies as unique and worthy of attention. If giving away free content was the norm, I imagine the increase in sales and publicity would be much lower.
10:15 – Second Session on the disappearance of the print review and the online review scene in general (Led/moderated by Q&Q staffer and blogger Steven Beattie, writer Claire Cameron and Ryan Nurwisah of the National Post)
10:17 - Steven expresses his dismay that the deep long-form critical review is not widely available online (well, they are on his v. intelligent blog That Shakesperian Rag). I think it’s true, but the problem isn’t necessarily the reviewers, but rather the medium itself (a point Steven made as well). We are ctrl + tab readers online – constantly multitasking and jumping about the page (I have 4 tabs open right now). We chat, we tweet, we google, we follow hyperlinks. Aside from the misery of squinting at small text on a glowing screen, we haven’t been conditioned to read carefully onscreen, especially online. We’re skimmers and attention tramps, and sadly I don’t think that will change. Dismal? Maybe.
10:22 – Alexa Clark (the creator and organizer of the fantastic Mini Book Expo) doesn’t think it’s a huge problem. She’s all about the quick recommendation, and thinks that’s what’s most important. hnd this is probably what online reviewing does best. (Check out Erin Balser’s very cool Booksin140 reviews on twitter)
10:23 – Concern expressed over lowering Canadian critical discourse and canon formation. SB: “Doesn’t that downgrade the discourse? If you just rub against it and say, ‘Yeah, I liked it.’? ” Funny quip, though I’m not sure reviewers are entirely responsible for canon formation. I realize that they’re on the front lines, but academics also play a vital role in promoting Canadian literature and deciding which works are worthy of sustained critical attention and passing on to students. Granted, it’s an insulated community, but thousands of students pass through the ivory tower each year, or at least stand outside to listen for proclamations from above.
10:28 – Speaking of academics: “We’re not afraid of offending people, that’s the only way people remember who we are.” (As a former academic, I can assert this is true.)
10:35 - Morgan Cowie wisely reminds all the alarmists in the room that the Globe coverage hasn’t disappeared, it’s moved online. (Now, whether people can absorb that coverage or privilege it in the same way is something else.)
10:40 – What will happen to the almighty cover blurb. “Ryan from GoodReads” is subject to a little snobbery, and Ryan (from the National Post) suggests that Demi Moore should be blurbing more books.
10:51 – My own starred review: Quote of the day from Jack Illingsworth: “I’ve seen starred reviews on Quill & Quire launch and sell nothing because the only people who read that review got a copy for free.”
11:00 – Someone articulates what I’d been tumbling around in my brain — the nature of online reviews being conversations that can continue indefinitely, whereas print reviews are far more like a lecture. (Perhaps even unconference vs. conference playing out on the review scene?)
11:10 – Basic conclusions that we can create opportunities for reviews to be read, but we can’t control how people read them.
11:15 – Small is Beautiful, with Alana Wilcox and the hastily recruited Jack Illingsworth
11:17 – Alana lists off many great advantages to working for a small press – focused lists, knowing readers, only guerilla marketing, agility, staff who are jacks of all trades, freedom and finishes it off with “we’ve never had money.”
11:19 – The lists of downsides mostly start with “no money.”
11:20 – A little general indignation that “small” can be derogative, and “independent” is suggested as a more suitable alternative.
11:25 – An CH author wrote a blog as a character in their novel? Wicked.
11:40 – Discussion on the necessity of engaging with readers instead of other publishers (which implies today might be more useful with more civilians in the crowd – thanks, Kev!)
11:50 – Someone from an American small press reveals that they use ebooks as a form of market testing — only printing the book if the ebook does well. But that seems based on pretty huge assumptions for me — mostly that a representative portion of your target audience are ebook buyers. I can see how this would (and I think has) worked for someone like Harlequin where readers have very specific tastes and offer lots of feedback, not to mention are big ebook consumers. I remain unsold on this strategy for general trade books.
12:15 – It’s lunch! And it seems like there’s enough despite worries by organizers. Wonder what the actual attendance count was?
1:17 – Arrive back a couple minutes late from lunch (trying to cram in errands over lunch = unwise). I thought it would be ok, but this is an unconference that runs on time. End up in the wrong session due to my hustle, but as it turns out “Listening to Readers” probably talked about many of the same things that “Stories from the trenches of online bookish communities” did.
1:25 – Questions of how to guide reader response/ when to censor — some publishers don’t allow negative comments, but I assert that these things tend to be self-correcting.
1:40 – Some very vocal Harlequin authors in the room, which is neat, but a very specific sort of writing. In any case, they’re very responsive to their readers — is there a romance storyline you always wanted to see? Write to them.
2:15 – “How to be a Digital Marketing Rockstar” with Mitch Joel of Twist Image.
2:17 – Joel starts with a provocation: Authors and publishers have to become marketers. No one seems too provoked (now if he had mentioned DRM…)
2:25 – Why are we infatuated with mass media models? Joel suggests we should be targeting much more specific audiences.
2:40 – Don’t give anything away for free! Now this is a bit of a provocation as it turns out, especially given that this is in contradiction to things said earlier. Joel suggests providing ancillary content — writing articles, etc, but giving away nothing of the book, since that devalues the actual object. However, it is wisely pointed out that this kind of extra content is much harder to provide with fiction.
2:41 – To clarify Joel’s earlier point: “Reviewers always think something sucks because they didn’t pay for it.”
2:53 – This has the least conversational feel of all the sessions today. A professional speaker, Joel seems to be a bit chafed by the restrictions of the unconference model — it’s mostly a Q &A sesssion.
3:13 – My brain is saturated and I’ve got a party to prepare to hostess this evening and many things still to do. So yes, I bail, and switch to soaking up sunshine instead of information.
But on the whole, I’d have to say BookCamp exceeded my expectations.The conference as well-organized as a regular conference. I wasn’t sure that the discussion model would work, especially with a group this large, but it did. People were fairly respectful of one another, and though it was sometimes hard to get heard, the moderators did their best. It was great to hear established industry leaders discussing things with newcomers, authors, and media. I don’t know that any answers were reached, it was a really engaging conversation.