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Charleston Conference soothsaying

John Barnes of Gale speaking about the “Future of Electronic Publishing” at the Charleston Conference. Sent from my phone; will write something about the future later!

Finally, days later, a little clarification. (No, sorry, can’t do anything about the quality of the photo, but after looking at some stuff on YouTube today I see that image quality isn’t crucial unless we’re watching sports and the HD stops working.) The panel was about the future of electronic publishing, but in the library crowd at the Charleston Conference it was deemed to be about the future of publishing itself. Like most of the sessions at Charleston, which are packed and overflowing, the same topics are rehashed, and often by the same people. This is comforting, somehow, in a world of change. It certainly makes blogging easy, because there are no dramatic, visionary ideas to absorb and explain.

John Barnes talked about how we publishers and librarians had given ground unnecessarily to Google and Wikipedia (true). Laura Brown, formerly president of Oxford University Press, talked about forging new partnerships with universities. Stephen Rhind-Tutt of Alexander Street Press, seen at right in the fuzzy photo, claimed that all content will eventually be online. One of my favorite publishers, Blaise Simqu of Sage, talked about being a steward of the company and how much he wanted his daughter to be directed to Sage databases when she goes to college in a decade or so.

I told Stephen afterwards, when he said how fed up he was with critics of Wikipedia, that I like to say that it’s good for Who, What, When, and Where, but not so good for How and Why. “I would have used that,” he said. It’s very simple, but easy enough to measure. And it’s true.

One question that always comes to mind in Charleston is this: What are the unique services provided by publishers and librarians? Some aspects of our role may change or vanish, but I am certain there are things we do that are truly needed and valued. Unfortunately, most people in the industry seem unable to identify those core strengths, and get confused about what we’re really about. For example, Blaise said that publishers “create great content.” Not so. Authors create  content, good and great. Publishers sometimes make good material great, and more often make poor material okay or even good. And they do a lot of important things besides. I think these distinctions are really important, if we are going to have a useful understanding of the future of publishing.

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