It was a brisk day at the MaRS Building in downtown Toronto last week as a couple hundred publishing denizens gathered for the BookNet Canada Tech Forum 2010.
The title for this year’s discussion was ‘Calculated Risk: Adventures in Book Publishing‘.
The day focused on four interconnected themes: Ambition, Trailblazing, Energy, Learning as You Go.
The conference organizers did an excellent job of creating a clean, professional and energetic atmosphere that was highlighted by Sachiko Murakami’s introduction to Deanna McFadden toward the end of the day. (Good times, Sachiko, good times!)
The speakers mostly rose to the occasion and delivered passionate, thoughtful presentations that balanced insight and information in equal measures.
Sarah LaBrie, Clare Hitchens and Sachiko Murakami have written more specifically detailed accounts of the speakers than I will get into here. Please go to their sites for their excellent analysis of the presentations.
My Two Take-Aways
1) Nothing replaces human contact and collaboration.
You’ve got to make the time to get out and meet the people that you work with in the industry. You have to spend time with them, talk to them, share stories and ideas.
There is no substitute for that experience and as someone who lives in Vancouver and spends a lot of time communicating digitally with people all over North America and elsewhere it was hugely gratifying to meet my online colleagues in person.
2) It’s about open source leadership and community building.
If you’re looking for the cookie cutter formula on how to proceed in book publishing in the digital age then you’ve come to the wrong place.
The opportunities – the verticles – available to content creators, publishers and the audience are past the point of calculation.
As digital distribution eclipses standard supply chain and territorial restrictions and simultaneously generates new expectations from a worldwide audience where does one turn to for surefire solutions?
As the industry is beset by the sudden – and profitable – appearance of new players and new ideas in the publishing ecosystem how does a traditional publisher adapt?
When content creators have the tools to create and disseminate their work in high quality editions to a cultivated community of passionate followers in several formats for relatively little capital investment, what does that auger for the future of the modern business model?
As the concept of piracy becomes the new supply chain where does that leave the notion of copyright, territorial rights and control? What are the new revenue streams?
How does a publisher with hundreds of titles competing in the market that is divided into increasingly specific self-organized communities – whose constituents spend zero time pouring over the book review section of the Globe and Mail or concerning themselves with flashy banner ads on publisher targeted websites – make any impact on those communities?
What does leadership look like in this environment?
If – as Richard Nash noted in his presentation – content has become infinite and our focus on supply will change to management of demand, how does an organization make the transition?
How does one create, build and manage communities in this environment. Can a standard top-down management structure succeed here?
I submit that in these circumstances leadership then becomes about empowerment, trust, collaboration and a willingness to explore.
Empower the people in the organization to step outside the box and experiment with authors and audience. Trust them to make the right decisions and encourage them to be brave enough to make mistakes. Have the courage to learn honestly from your mistakes and then go make some more.
Treat the people in your organization as trusted collaborators. Be open to the ideas and instincts of the people who grew up never knowing a time before the internet.
The same goes for the authors and communities. Empower them, trust them with your ideas and brands and collaborate with them to make books that truly serve the contemporary vision.
Breakdown any process that is inhibiting these relationships from flowering.
Lead by recognizing the moment that is at hand.
Trust, openness, collaboration, community, exploration.
Thoughts on #BNC11 as a leadership model for the book publishing industry
If we are encouraging the book publishing industry to be adventurous and to embrace the four themes of Ambition, Trailblazing, Energy and Learning As You Go would it be crazy to suggest that the conference itself live these values and act as a qualified example?
If we are encouraging publishers to rethink their business models, to abandon traditional top-down mentalities and to take a more broadminded view of the relationship between publisher, content creator and audience, would it make sense that the conference itself abandon the standard ‘one to many’ model and encourage a more participatory, collaborative approach?
I’m not advocating for the controlled chaos of the BookCamp formula here and I don’t have any examples at hand for what a ‘more participatory, collaborative approach’ might mean right at the moment but I think that it certainly deserves to be investigated.
If we can engage the leaders of the industry to explore collaboration, to discuss the granularity of the digital possibilities with their colleagues and to facilitate experiential opportunities for engaging these ideas then maybe we demonstrate what adaptation looks like in real time and push the industry forward as a result.
Can the traditional conference formula be augmented to allow for these kinds of exchanges?
Don’t get me wrong, #BNC10 was a success and I learned a lot, but as we move forward I think that there’s opportunity for the idea of what BNC means in the future to change and to reflect the themes that it is built around.
Nevertheless, it was a great day and everyone at BNC deserves to huge thank you for making it so excellent.
I look forward to #BNC11.