Live from NY! Publishing booms, despite Borders crisis

Borders is bust. The bookstore giant may pass through bankruptcy as a smaller retailer of diverse products, but the era of big box bookstores is over. Have you seen the public filing that lists 200 stores Borders plans to close immediately? Here’s a copy from court records.

BUT TODAY, LIVE FROM NEW YORK, we’re reporting on highlights of the big annual conference of digital publishers and media developers in New York City. This is a summary of news items jotted down all this week on an iPad by ReadTheSpirit Publisher John Hile. Despite the wreckage that Borders now is spreading coast to coast: employees out of work, customers no longer able to browse for the latest news and books, community leaders no longer able to gather around a Borders coffeetable, towns left with big empty stores—yes, despite that grim news …


The O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing conference in New York is an annual watershed for the thousands of innovators building the next generation of publishing. Professionals come from major newspapers like New York Times and USA Today, from the realm of literature like author Margaret Atwood, from traditional publishers and booksellers like Ingram and Barnes & Noble. And, lots of professionals also come from companies you’ve never heard of—but may soon.
Our Publisher John Hile looked for points of light on the horizon. Here is his report …

After Big Box Bookstores, Where Do We Meet?

Where do hundreds of millions of friends meet now? Online social networking. Facebook represents the biggest single chunk of time for millions. If you haven’t done so already, you may soon interact in small discussion groups via online connectors. Some of the sites mentioned at ToC were: Book Glutton: Books Are Conversations, then still in development is ReadSocial, and some sites are taking different approaches to the methods of connection like Discoverreads, which is designed to link with friends through your own tastes in reading. Of course, an established site in that realm is Goodreads. AND, to a large extent, readers already are building their own online hubs through Facebook. Here’s a Facebook hub we set up at ReadTheSpirit for readers who enjoy discussing American values through the project. In 2011, ReadTheSpirit will bring you more opportunities to connect with friends. After all, we can’t depend on Borders to keep the lights on and the coffee hot for us.

Are ‘Most’ Publishers Ready For This?

Of course, the giant publishing houses already have big new-media divisions. But the truth of American publishing is that this business really is a network of thousands of small to mid-sized publishers. And, here’s a startling stat heard at ToC: New research into American publishing shows two-thirds have not made any fundamental changes to their business models or workflows to adapt to digital publishing. As publishers, can we afford to ignore what’s unfolding? Companies must evolve. Here’s another startling stat heard at ToC: Throughout the corporate world, nearly half of the companies praised as stars in the 1982 best-seller “In Search of Excellence”—are gone. No choice. Evolve.

‘April Is the Cruelest Month’
(Or maybe not!)
T.S. Eliot Meets iPad

Know ‘The Wasteland’? Like ‘Howl’ by Allen Ginsberg and works by Frost and Auden and Yeats, these are poetic pillars of the 20th Century. Does that sound a bit stodgy? Like that high school class you thought would never end? Nah! Ginsberg is fresher than ever on DVD and Blu-ray and, at ToC, we heard news that a transformed T.S. Eliot—with five recordings of the poem, plus video—is coming to our iPads in April. Yes, that is Eliot’s “cruelest month.” Or maybe not this year.

An App is a Ride … Not a Website

Think about that ‘Wasteland’ offering: so clearly focused that it’s easy to explain—and it’s intriguing even to people who might have shuddered over Eliot in school. At ToC, Jennifer Brook talked about the unique nature of Apps. She is an interaction designer who develops web, mobile and tablet applications for the New York Times. In her presentation at ToC, she stressed that anyone considering turning content into an App should stop and think about the unique nature of Apps. They’re not newspapers. They’re not websites. If a handheld platform is a theme park, an App is a ride. Successful Apps are clearly focused on a few very good features. Too many things to think about spoils the ride.

Know the bald guy? Read Seth.

COVER of Seth Godin’s new book, “Poke the Box.”As at previous ToC gatherings, there was buzz from the bald guy. If you don’t follow Seth Godin’s blog, well: Start. On Monday, people were buzzing about Seth’s latest challenge to re-envision book covers. Why? Among other things, covers don’t show on an actual Kindle device. Plus, the old marketing rationale for book covers is crumbling, Seth says; something new will emerge with growth of e-reading. Seth’s putting his own advice into practice; his latest book, Poke the Box, doesn’t have a title on the cover.

Shout out to McSweeney’s

At ReadTheSpirit, we’ve been watching McSweeney’s for a long time. Once McSweeney’s was an elite literary magazine famous for completely redesigning each new issue. One summer issue included a comb in the back cover to fix your hair after enjoying the stories. Now, the McSweeney’s App continues to impress for its simple yet elegant design and its subscription model that generates ongoing revenue. An App to watch!

And now for a little GeekSpeak

Among the smart voices recommended at ToC is A List Apart, also known as ALA. For example, USA Today interactive designer Willliam Couch pointed to a column at ALA in his talk. The site certainly isn’t flashy, but its content is all about nuts-and-bolts design, often digging into the theories behind how our senses gather information. How geeky is this site? A recent headline was, “Cross Platform Scalable Vector Graphics with svgweb.” But on the same page was a story praising the cognitive power of doodling and another story on designing web content for kids. Cool stuff.

HTML5: The beauty. The Horror.

Let’s go deeper into the tech realm for a moment—for a sure sign that media is moving rapidly into flexible new forms of presentation. Let’s say you really want your weather report to jump easily from the text of a forecast to a radar image of your region to an estimate of snowfall in the next 24 hours? Websites and Apps do that now, but they do it by hooking together software through a fairly cumbersome process. One big goal of HTML5 is to let software interact with Internet content more easily. Bottom line: You want your information NOW. And you want it customized to your life, your tastes and your location in the world. HTML5 is a new set of international standards for that kind of flexible Internet presentation. The buzz on HTML5 at ToC is: This new standard will speed up lots of cool stuff we want to do, including multimedia and 3D effects. What about all of our readers who simply want more flexibility in clearly publishing material online? Yes, HTML5 should give us all a great deal more flexibility in important choices like typefaces.

Sounds beautiful, right? But there also are warnings at ToC of horrors, at least at the moment. It’s even premature to call this a complete set of standards, because it’s so new. Much of HTML5 is undocumented; much of it is still changing. The proposed new logo for use with HTML5 projects was just released in late January and still hasn’t been officially finalized. If this were a Western movie: A cool new sheriff just rode in and he’ll clean up the town eventually, but his badge is still brand new and developers still don’t know all the rules he’ll enforce in the year ahead.

Want a Laugh? Everything Old Is New Again

Loud and clear, ToC confirmed one of the central principles at ReadTheSpirit: Quality content is the key to successful media. That doesn’t mean “fancy” content. That doesn’t mean “high flown” content that only a professor would want to read. It means brilliant content you’ve just got to share with friends. One such humorous moment at ToC was a presentation of a Japanese version of Tom Lehrer’s 1959 “Elements Song.” Lehrer, the musician and mathemetician who now is 82, wasn’t at ToC—but his 51-year-old song was.

You should see two video screens below: First is Lehrer’s original song. Second is the Japanese version shown at ToC. NOTE: If you’re reading this story in a version without these video screens, click here to visit the ReadTheSpirit page for today’s story that shows the screens. Enjoy!



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