TOC Frankfurt Wrap-Up

In some ways, TOC Frankfurt was like every other TOC conference. The event brought together the usual assortment of publishing professionals, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders to discuss the future of an industry in the midst of a massive transformation. Over the past three years TOC has emerged as the go to source for publishers looking to expose themselves to innovative ideas and the cutting edge technology that is shaping the future of the book business.

TOC Frankfurt differed from previous TOC conferences in a few notable ways, however. First, the event lasted just a single day, rather than the usual three. As a result, attendees got what might best be described as a concentrated dose of the TOC vision. Then there was the fact that the conference was being held in Europe for the first time. The Frankfurt conference had a distinctly more international feel to it than previous TOCs. And finally, there was the post-conference media coverage, some of which was less than flattering.

The Bookseller’s coverage implied that the event had been a “missed opportunity” quoting Fionnuala Duggan, of Random House:

“Some of the speakers were computer programmers, who have peculiar and particular needs, and what is right for their type of publishing is not necessarily right for ours. There are broader questions that need to be answered and issues that need to be addressed before claiming that DRM-free is the answer. O’Reilly is just one of the many voices we need to listen to.”

Referring to another presentation, she added: “The piracy issue was dealt with very poorly.”

Given the diversity of speakers and issues represented at the Frankfurt event, Duggan’s criticism is curious at best. In reality, almost none of the speakers were computer programmers and the vast majority of the sessions had nothing to do with DRM or piracy.

Contrary to Duggan’s representations, TOC Frankfurt looked more like this:

  • Dominique Raccah of Sourcebooks discussed the challenges of running a traditional publishing company while simultaneously positioning that company to transition into an uncertain digital future.
  • Ramy Habeeb talked about the state of Arab publishing and the challenges of being a publishing in Egypt.
  • Arthur Attwell described how he uses an existing low-tech infrastructure to reach readers in parts of South Africa and sub Saharan Africa where no bookshops exist.
  • Peter Brantley of the Internet Archive and Keith Fahlgran of O’Reilly presented an overview of Bookserver/OPDS, an open protocol designed to facilitate the discovery and acquisition of books. This may have been the most technical session of the day, but it was presented in a high level way that was easily accessible to a non-technical audience. OPDS, by the way, looks like it’s shaping up to be a key technology for ebook discovery and distribution.
  • In a TOC first, a series of Pecha Kucha presentations towards the end of the day afforded a platform to over a half dozen (mostly) European presenters speaking on a wide range of topics. The unique format opened the door to a variety of opinions, including a few that were clearly pro-DRM.

While it’s true that Cory Doctorow addressed the issue of DRM during his morning keynote, he did so in a way that represented the concerns of the one group that almost never has a voice at this sort of industry event — the consumer.

Duggan’s commentary on piracy is equally puzzling. Far from endorsing piracy, the research being conducted by Brian O’Leary attempts to quantify the impact of piracy on book sales. O’Leary has been clear that more research is needed and has repeatedly encouraged publishers to participate in the study. Gathering data in order to better understand one of the most important issues facing the publishing industry as it transitions into the digital age hardly qualifies as advocacy of a particular worldview.

TOC returns to the US next February in its usual three day format.

11 Responses to “TOC Frankfurt Wrap-Up”

  1. Good overview and analysis of TOC – Frankfurt. You’ve touched upon something I had not considered before: that the one-day format challenged people to really pay attention to issues like reader requirements, interoperability, the impact (value) of DRM and the potential threat from P2P distribution. Perhaps this focused event left less room for doubt that divisions exist.

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