eBook Summit takes “Tell, Don’t Show” approach

16 Dec

By Amy Schroeder

“What scares the shit out of people is the velocity of change.”

Apt words from Ken Auletta, author of 2009’s Googled: The End of the World as We Know It. Whether the audience of MediaBistro’s eBook Summit needed to hear those words was uncertain.

Though Auletta’s closing speech was a highlight of the December 15 event at the New Yorker Hotel, the eBook Summit would have benefited from more talk about, well, e-books.

Instead, the event’s tone centered around the message of “Hey, guys, it’s time to get on board with technology!” Unfortunately, the speakers—the majority of them white guys—preached to a choir of media types already with the program.

The audience—a mix of journalists, content producers (including an AstroTwin), students, copyright folks, and publishers—appeared to be sold on the idea of e-readers. What they hoped for—or, at least what I hoped for—was practical tips and advice on how to make awesome e-reader content.

While I understand the economy sucks and this is not the late ’90s era of glitzy dot-com parties with champagne and glitter pouring from the ceilings, the eBook Summit should have included a budget for visuals of, say, e-readers. And where were the Kindle and iPad booths? Instead, after the event, a woman manned a merch table to sell paperbacks of Googled and other books.

Lack of show-don’t-tell approach aside, the overall messaging and themes, were on point:

• Content still is, and will always be, king.

• The e-reader business model will likely focus on quality over quantity (at least in its infancy).

• The media industry has two divisions of players: the entrepreneurs and those who hope being an employee for the big guys will work out.

I also was willing to overlook the gloomy space and lack of visual aids to savor words of wisdom from the likes of Cursor Founder Richard Nash, Andy Hunter and Scott Lindenbaum of Electric Literature, Mischief and Mayhem Co-founder Dale Peck, and media theorist Douglas Rushkoff. Stand-out quotes:

KEN AULETTA, Writer for the New Yorker

• “Google is good at things they can measure, but not what they can’t.”

• “The traditional media world is finally leaning forwarding and saying, ‘Let’s look at challenges as opportunities.”

• “The top thing a good journalist needs is humility.”

DEBBIE STIER, Consultant and former SVP/Associate Publisher, HarperStudio

“You can win big by caring more than everybody else. People will pay more for quality.”

SCOTT WEISENTHAL, CEO, Off the Bookshelf

“People aren’t paying as much attention to best-seller lists as much as recommendations from friends [on Facebook, etc.].”

JASON ASHLOCK, Principal, Movable Type Literary Group

“You can’t fix the book publishing system so much as you can build parallel to it.”

KATE MCKEAN, Literary agent, Howard Morhaim Literary Agency

On getting a publishing contract: “In nonfiction, it’s essential for writers to be known, but in fiction it’s not so much.”

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