« Discussion

Are Conferences Creating a De-facto E-book Elite?

By Edward Nawotka

TOC Audience

In our lead story today, I write about the proliferation of e-book and digital publishing conferences. There are at least five focused on digital publishing and e-books coming up in the next five months, in addition to three shows in the last three months. (Photo by James Duncan Davidson)

The expense, not to mention the time one needs to take off work, is not insignificant. For small publishers, start-ups and others who may not have the corporate sponsorship to enable them to attend  the events, it’s unlikely they’d be able to attend multiple events over the course of a year.

The question is if digital publishing is promising democratization of the book business by lowering barriers to production and distribution, do conferences inadvertently create an elite by creating what amounts to a pay-wall around best-practices? Are those who cannot afford the best education being put in a disadvantageous position, one that will allow those who can afford to pay-to-play to co-opt the distribution channel for themselves?

Or, does the changing environment require those who can afford to innovate to do so and take the lead? Is this a case where if the investments in time and education aren’t made by the top companies in the industry things will remain stagnant, as they had until a few years ago?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below or via Twitter using hashtag #ppdiscuss.

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16 Comments

  1. Posted February 26, 2010 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    You wrote “For small publishers, start-ups and others who may not have the corporate sponsorship to enable them to attend the events, it’s unlikely they’d be able to attend multiple events over the course of a year.” IBPA, Independent Book Publishers Association, a not-for-profit trade group, serves more than 3,000 publishers, more than 90% of whom fall into the category of “small publishers.” And of course budget is always an issue for our members and any smaller publisher. For 25 years, our Publishing University has taught literally thousands of new publishers the business of publishing and this year will be no exception. What makes our University unique is that it is the only conference created BY publishers FOR publishers that treats publishing education as a complete package–including digital, print, and the spectrum of what a novice AND a veteran needs to know to prosper. The 2010 University will be held May 24-25 in New York, and I guarantee that the cost will be affordable and IBPA will provide an outstanding program geared especially for the small and independent publisher. If new publishers can only attend one conference, IBPA’s Publishing University will give them the most bang for the buck by offering practical strategies for growing their publishing business now and in the future. Details will be forthcoming soon at http://www.ibpa-online.org

    Florrie Kichler, President, IBPA

  2. Posted February 26, 2010 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    Conference opportunities abound, though I am equally certain that not all conferences are created equal.

    Relatively few presentations or panels I have attended in the last two years did much to advance “best practices” in a meaningful way. Publishers often have to disguise or generalize data to protect a sense of confidentiality, and vendors and consultants (I am the latter) too often step over the line between idea and promotion.

    There may be an opportunity to provide less expensive, online education around topics of interest or emergent need to the publishing business. That would be both “fair” to publishers with fewer resources and probably win-win for both sides of the equation.

  3. Jill A Tardiff
    Posted February 26, 2010 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    Conference pricing keeps many out of the loop, perhaps deliberately. Small-to-mid sized companies and publishers, industry entrepreneurs and authors cannot manage the “price tag” for many of these conferences and programs such as O’Reilly TOC (upwards $1745) and Publishing Business Conference and Expo (upwards $975). Then there’s the additional travel/accommodation costs if indeed one is from “out of town.”

    All in all, thanks to BookExpo America for providing educational programming at reasonable rates with most “free” with basic registration fee staggered appropriately to profession.

    I agree that industry Webinars would be beneficial. Many other industries offer this option.

  4. Babette Ross
    Posted February 26, 2010 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    I think you are posing an interesting question, and perhaps there is a clique amongst attendees as opposed to an elite class. I applaud both DBW and TOC for having a substantial web presence enabling non attendees to catch keynotes etc. And following along on twitter also gives an interested non-attendee real time perspective.

  5. Colleen in MA
    Posted February 26, 2010 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    There is so much free information available online regarding the production of eBooks that, by the time I got to a conference, I felt overeducated. Right now a lot of talk at conferences is about ideas and, although there was talk of best practices, no one is actually going to lay out ALL of their hard-won information. Also, conferences like Digital Book World are holding free on-line seminars for eBook production and TOC posts videos of their seminars online for free. So I would say that not attending a conference in person is not a liability yet.

  6. Posted February 26, 2010 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    I think “elite” is too strong a term, but there’s definitely a divide between those who can and can’t attend conferences. More than the content of any particular program, the face-to-face opportunities are an invaluable part of the conference experience that social networking will never fully match.

    That’s nothing new, of course, nor is it unique to the publishing industry.

    As others have noted, though, the Internet enables any and everyone to get access to much of the information that is shared at conferences, and even to many of the people sharing it — and to do so year-round. Not to turn this thread into a commercial, but that’s the primary reason Digital Book World expanded beyond our conference into a year-round platform; two days in NYC simply wasn’t inclusive enough to accomplish our mission of offering resources to the entire publishing community.

  7. Posted February 26, 2010 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    Agree that ‘elite’ is a bit strong. While I was freelancing (albeit for a short time) and had ZERO disposable income, I made it a point to work my butt off and find ways to get around pay-walls: Follow smart people in publishing, follow conference hashtags, attend free seminars/webinars (not all necessarily in publishing), read EVERYTHING on pub blogs, take meetings with idea people, etc.

    It is expensive to attend the conferences, I’m not arguing that point. But I worry that people may read this post and think they can hide behind the money issue and not make the effort to communicate/collaborate.

  8. Lindsey Thomas Martin
    Posted February 26, 2010 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    Colleen is right. And, to get started, all you need is XHTML (epub) + CSS.

  9. Posted February 26, 2010 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Kate. The information is out there, a lot of it for free. But it takes work to weed through what is useful and what is not. Conferences provide a shortcut to some of that information for those who don’t have the time, but do have the money.

    My worry is that some may think these conferences, because they are so expensive, are all they need to do to find out what they need to know. Having attended only one conference in person this year, and two via Twitter, I don’t have the broadest range of data, but so far I have learned just as much outside of the conference, following the steps Kate mentioned above, as I have at the actual conferences.

    The added value, as Guy said, is in the chance to speak with colleagues face-to-face.

  10. Posted February 26, 2010 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    Since when is it important to attend a conference to learn how to build a successful business? The coverage of all of these conferences is widespread. No one speaking at any of them has a secret method. Most important, everyone who is actually innovating (as opposed to just speculating and pontificating) is doing so in plain sight.

  11. Hannah
    Posted February 26, 2010 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    Colleen and Lindsey have a point that the actual information you need to create e-books and use digital tools is all available for free online. In terms of educating yourself on the mechanics of digital publishing, that is not a problem (nor should people hide behind the money excuse on this issue).

    What a conference offers that you still cannot do to the same degree online is facilitate networking opportunities. While Twitter and online social networks help people make contact one another, it doesn’t always lead to the same kind of trust or connection that meeting someone in person can do. Open and idea-generating discussion is also better in person than on Twitter, in my opinion.

    And on that note, it might be the case that digital conferences create a relatively closed group of people who network with each other and make decisions on behalf of those who cannot attend.

  12. Edward Nawotka
    Posted February 26, 2010 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    Re: The word “elite” is deliberately strong. Clique is more accurate, but only for the present — and I really don’t mean it to sound quite as pejorative as it would.

    Elite points to the establishment of, well, an “establishment,” one that I suspect may be being formed. Because in some sense this is an issue about class. You do need cash to get an education in this country, and speaking as a guy who is still paying off his graduate student loan to Columbia, I know (and frankly, the best thing going to an Ivy League school did was teach me to tell people I went to an Ivy League school).

    As for Ted’s statement that people are innovating in plain sight — yes, that’s true — but only once a product gets to market. Conference, for many, are a platform to test new ideas and theories amongst like-minded colleagues, many of whom can help bring the product to market. But what I’m getting at here is whether or not there are some publishers who will be left behind.

    “Leave no publisher left behind,” should be our motto and rallying cry.

  13. Posted February 26, 2010 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    As a self-publisher who is self-taught in all aspects of the publishing game and who has already published my own ebooks without any help, I prefer to think that you all are catching up with ME (evil laughter). One thing I have learned from the whole conference thing over the years is that they are great for networking, but prohibitively expensive to attend, and there is little that any of them can teach me anymore. And the occasional webinar may be beneficial but one has to jump through too many hoops to get the full impact of the discussion. I am still waiting for a free PDF of material promised to me by Digital Book World for registering for a webinar (which did NOT download, BTW, and which I did not get to hear). And those who participate in the panels do represent a publishing world which has not caught up with the reality on the ground. So until someone is ready to sponsor a real “mixer” where you actually get to meet people and talk to them, and which do not cost an arm and a leg, and not always in New York, I will pass.

  14. Posted February 26, 2010 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    @Theresa: We notified all WEBcast registrants of the PDF’s availability more than a week ago, and I’ve emailed it directly to everyone who contacted me for it. Feel free to email me at guy.gonzalez@fwmedia.com and I’ll send it to you, too.

  15. Posted March 15, 2010 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    I may be the writer with the most book-to-digital and back again experience around, as the author of 18 books all published by big trade publishers, a New York Times bestseller based on a blog (How Not To Act Old at hownottoactold.com), and a major website (2.5 million page views a month) called nameberry based on ten baby name books. My newest project is an innovative web novel called Ho Springs at hosprings.com; this follows five conventional novels published by Simon & Schuster.

    Yet I remain a complete outsider in this world of conferences. My own fault? Maybe. The conferences ARE expensive and whatever elite selects the panels has not seemed interested in getting me on board. Is it because I’m female? Over 40? Female AND over 40 AND a solitary writer as opposed to a publisher? Maybe, I don’t know, but I’d like to be part of this world and think I have a tremendous amount of on-the-ground experience to offer.

  16. Posted February 18, 2012 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    I am so grateful for your blog.Much thanks again. Much obliged.

2 Trackbacks

  1. By So Many Book Conferences, So Little Time on February 26, 2010 at 11:31 am

    [...] DISCUSS: Are conferences creating a de-facto e-book elite? [...]

  2. [...] number of events, I also wondered if the number of events weren’t inadvertently creating a publishing elite? After all, paying for conferences out of one’s own pocket is daunting. If you’re a [...]

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