The Lessons from Texas

Watching the aftermath of #sxswbp has been fascinating. As with most such events I candidly confess to being a mere spectator once again rubber necking from across the Pond. Still, this is too juicy to let go without any comment. The "New Think for Old Publishers" panel has entered the annals of SXSW lore as a car crash session. Probably not quite of the magnitude of last years Zuckerberg keynote disaster, but hey, it seems SXSWers like nothing better than something to bitch at on Twitter.

For the full story of #sxswbp Medialoper did a good report at the time; now we have some fascinating panel side views from Peter Miller, who is also offering some advice for future sacrificial lambs, sorry publishers, heading to Austin.

The great irony of all this is the session was organised by Penguin. Now the winner of both the Experimental and Best in Show awards at SXSW was We Tell Stories, a project also from Penguin.  I'm not sure the significance of a publisher, and a UK publisher at that, winning something this big and with this much kudos has fully sunk in. Suffice to say it is very significant.

All the snarky tweets from #sxswbp look slightly off kilter in this context (without doubting for a second that the panel radically ill judged the ethos of SXSW).

For me the whole affair neatly sums up the position of the publishing industry vis a vis new media. At once fully engaged, rapidly and radically innovative, plugging the business into new media even as it extends the reach and depth of that new media itself, while also cowering and confused in the face of an uncaring juggernaut already cutting swathes through other creative industries.

The lessons then? New media needs to be engaged on it's own terms. Publishers have to be bold, have to be different and have to set the agenda, rather than let it be set for them.  From where I'm sitting, that was difference between SXSW's two publishing encounters.

The digerati want freshness and new ideas, not indecision and meekness.

PS- does anyone else get the feeling that for the SXSW hardcore Twitter is now becoming a bit mainstream, a bit passe, like your favourite underground band suddenly appearing in the charts?