Mobile, social is where it's at

Day two of the Tools of Change conference and it's becoming clear that mobile and social are the buzzwords this year. Gavin Bell, of our very own Nature Publishing Group, argued that publishers are in a strong position to aggregate, host and curate the digital 'conversation' that is already going on around our books online. In a fascinating and informative talk which included intelligent critiques of some existing publisher web sites (including some too often held up as paragons of virtue: the Penguin site and 5th Estate blog), Gavin made a simple suggestion to all publishers: that we take a digital asset that we all have - a digital 'catalogue' - and create a 'social catalogue'. By adding social tools around authors, genres or brands and pulling in social content from blogs, book tagging and cataloguing sites and even Amazon reviews, publishers could instantly provide a richer environment and build a bigger 'digital footprint' for themselves to support social interactions around their books.

'Digital footprinting' came up a lot. In his rousing 'Free is more complicated than you might think' presentation Tim O'Reilly inspired us all to think about our digital strategy in a much less narrow context than many publishers do today. Tim sees free digital content (from his excellent and highly visited blog) to sponsored magazine style content as a strategic tool with which to build a digital footprint to support and enhance his publishing brands. Perhaps the most interesting sentences he uttered in his speech were, "For O'Reilly, IP is no longer our core asset. We use IP to create community and support and extend the brand. Products then come out of that."

And while the eBook discussions were already sounding tired by Day 2 (the still endless arguments re which device, will it be one device anyway, how should eBooks be priced, and does the market really care?), the excitement was around mobile, with a number of presentations suggesting there really is a lot more to come in this area.

Sophia Stuart, mobile director of Hearst Magazines, demonstrated how they have used their understanding of and connection with their readers to produce highly tailored, highly targeted mobile offerings supported by advertising. Lesson for book publishers: know your market much, much better. Which brings me back to social, and community, and the digital footprint.

Quote of the day:

"If your digital marketing strategy is still all about your web site, about 'pages', you're screwed." (Gavin Bell)

How to roast a duck

I'm nearing the end of Day 1 at the extremely thought-provoking and wonderful O'Reilly Tools of Change conference, and I thought I'd post my top five challenging (scary?) 'take-aways' of the day:

  1. 40% of Internet users are tagging content on a daily basis - how many publishers are ensuring their content is taggable? (Stephen Abram, Information 3.0: Will publishers matter?)
  2. Did you know that the generation of digital natives, today's teenagers, read differently from you and I? Research shows that their eyes have developed to move across the 'page' completely differently. Are publishers tapped into this new generation and are we stucturing our content for them? (Stephen Abram, Information 3.0: Will publishers matter?)
  3. Today, it would take five years to read all the new scientific content produced online every 24 hours. Obscurity, not piracy, is the issue for publishers. (Bill Burger, Copyright in a new light)
  4. Encyclopedia Britannica experienced freefall in ten years, moving from a $650M business to a $50M business within the space of ten years, after challenges online first from Microsoft, and then, more dramatically, from Wikipedia. Could travel books be next, as Wikitravel and Wikitravel Press disrupts this space? (Bill Burger, Copyright in a new light)
  5. Content is not king. Context is not even king. Contact is king. As publishers are we developing a role creating the context, tools and 'excuses' for interactions around our content which give readers 'social currency'? (Douglas Rushkoff, Who's story is this, anyway? When readers become writers)

And finally, borrowing again from Stephen Abram's incredible talk, a quote which will become my mantra, for today at least:

"You have to sit by the side of a river for a *very* long time before a roast duck will fly into your mouth." (Guy Kawasaki)

I think this means get involved. Dive in. Or just get out now.

Postscript: George Walkley at Hachette is blogging on the conference too, posting his comprehensive notes from the sessions on his blog.