O’Reilly Media’s Tools of Change (TOC) conference came to Frankfurt on 13 October 2009 – the first time the concept had been aired outside of the United States.
It is safe to say that TOC Frankfurt had been eagerly anticipated; I was certainly looking forward to it and if the bustle during registration was anything to go by then so were the majority of the roughly 200 (my guestimate) delegates who had paid the not insignificant Euro 499 +VAT registration fee to attend.
There were a couple of slightly annoying housekeeping issues. Registration was a bit chaotic due to poor signage, the breakout rooms were cramped and generally way too small and problems with the internet connection throughout the day must have been embarrassing to O’Reilly given their cutting-edge internet reputation. These could have easily been forgiven (it’s not easy to put on a conference like this, especially in an unfamiliar venue) had a program that promised “new insights” delivered.
The opening two keynotes, Sara Lloyd (Pan Macmillan) and Neelan Chokski (Lexcycle), shared a slick delivery style but failed to impart any real insight. The third of the opening trio, Cory Doctorow, gave a passionate – if rather hurried – view of what needs to happen to sustain books into the future.
As we headed for coffee and the parallel sessions that were to follow, I was feeling a little underwhelmed.
Brian O’Leary (Magellan Media) improved my mood as he outlined research – albeit on a small scale – that seemed to suggest a correlation between peer-2-peer piracy and an increase in sales. He was careful in what he said and began and ended by suggesting that more work was needed from a bigger range of titles and publishers (he was just reporting on a subset of titles from the O’Reilly list). I was therefore disappointed, but not surprised, to read the several “Piracy boosts sales” headlines the following day…
Timo Hannay (Nature Publishing Group) gave a typically interesting presentation, though many in the scholarly / academic publishing industry will have heard much of the content before, but while the panel session on Alternative Digital Sales Channels was entertaining enough, it didn’t really work as a Q and A, failed to really address the topic in hand, and consequently stuttered. Simon Waldman (Guardian Media Group) did manage to give an overview of the innovative things that the Guardian are doing that was both interesting and entertaining. The elephant in the room during his talk was that the Guardian, like many newspapers, are struggling financially and have reduced the number of professional journalists working on the paper (in fact the Guardian is sustained by profits from Auto Trader). Opportunities to generate income from the innovations that Simon was talking about appear scarce, but in fairness that wasn’t his brief and nonetheless he reported some neat stuff.
I did enjoy the PECHA KUCHA session. Though some of the presenters struggled with the challenge of this, errr challenging, format they all managed to get through it unscathed. Well more or less. It was fast paced which meant that if you didn’t like a particular speaker then, like the weather in Melbourne, you didn’t have long to wait for a change.
Closing keynote speaker and O’Reilly founder Tim O’Reilly wasn’t able to make it to Frankfurt and this news was kept until the last possible moment which was understandable, I guess. After all, the organizers will have wanted to ensure that everybody stayed to the end. Unfortunately the attempt by Andrew Savikas (VP of Digital Initiatives at O’Reilly Media) to fill the void was a big disappointment. The title of the talk was ‘Reasons to be Excited’ but Savikas did little more than drone on about O’Reilly Media itself. Again I thought there was little of interest or insight and for me TOC Frankfurt ended as it began – with a damp squib.
Some have criticised TOC Frankfurt for its anti-DRM stance. The trouble was that throughout the whole day there was no real debate – about DRM or anything else – and that’s perhaps the biggest lesson that TOC needs to learn. It was also pretty one-dimensional: Publish your content DRM-free and via an iPhone app. Yawn.
So in summary I would not recommend O’Reilly Tools of Change to ALPSP members on the evidence of the first TOC Frankfurt event. Admittedly this is partly due to the high expectations that I had, and indeed the high cost of attending. But the bottom line is that I can spend my time and my organization’s money much more productively, and other familiar faces that I saw at TOC Frankfurt generally agreed.
The Frankfurt Book Fair has announced that an improved TOC conference will be back next year. I am sure it will, but I won’t be there to see it.
#alpsp #tocfrankfurt #fbf09