Saturday, June 10, 2006

BookExpo Canada Conference: Highlights and Lowlights

BookExpo Canada opened yesterday with a one-day conference: Writers to Readers: Linking the Content Creators to the End Users. The essence of the program is well captured in that title. The computer jargon signals an emphasis on connecting writers to readers through technological means. The absence of the word “book” is deliberate. Guest speaker Kevin Smokler’s assertion that the book is only the beginning was very much the party line throughout the day. And it’s no accident that it’s the content creators rather than the content that is to be linked with end users. The focus was on promoting authors more so than the individual works that they produce.

As a reader I was interested and even excited by much of what I heard. As a writer I found it all a bit distressing. This tug-of-war persisted throughout the day. I’m plotting individual posts on a couple of the sessions, but let me begin here with a quick rundown of highlights and lowlights. I’ll start with the negative and end on an up note.

Lowlights:

- a breakout session titled “Advanced Website Marketing and Blogging” in which blogs were mentioned only once and very dismissively

- an absurdly skewed panel which promised a debate on the questions “Who Owns Information & Who Gets to Distribute It” and instead served up infomercials for Google Book Search, Amazon.com Digital Text, and MSN’s Windows Live Book Search

Highlights:

- a session titled “What is a Real Best Seller" in which Michael Tamblyn of BookNet Canada managed to fascinate math-phobic me with numbers and pie charts

- Kevin Smokler’s rousing presentation on why branding books is not a soulless enterprise

- Judy Rebick’s impassioned and practical pitch for fostering communities of readers online and off

Details to follow in subsequent posts...

8 comments:

Dorothy W. said...

Very interesting. I'm coming to hate that word "content," the way it's used in entertainment and in education. It sounds so empty, like it almost doesn't matter what you say as a "content creator," you just have to fill in a box with something and send it out into the world. Or throw your educational "content" up on the web and let the students figure it out. Ick.

Kate S. said...

Dorothy,

I agree. I understand why they used the term in this context -- to get away from a focus on the book as a physical object. Not that I'm ready to give up the book as a physical object, mind you. But I don't think the conference organizers are either; they were trying to stretch people's thinking in a good way. However, separating form from content in a literary context can't be accomplished so neatly. The form isn't just the physical form of the book. It's also the way that it's written. Form and content are thoroughly intertwined in a good book. Thus I think an unintended consequence of using the term "content" was to discount what the author brings to the table. The author seemed to me to be present in the conference program as a commodity not as a creator, the pairing of "content" and "creator" notwithstanding.

Kevin said...

Thank you for your good vibes, Kate.

Gata said...

There should be more emphasis on book blogs! I've found them so helpful for ideas for what to read next. This is especially true because newspaper critics usually cover new books and only a certain amount of them. Everyday book lovers have a different angle, perhaps even more insight than the professional. It's a fantastic forum.

house of parlance said...

Hi Kate

I was at the BEC this past weekend from Vancouver. I attended as many aspects of the event as I could over the 4 days and was most excited by the 4 person panel at the end of friday's sessions. Really envigorating. Don't forget that this is the Big Yearly Tradeshow for an industry that thinks it's still 1958 - so there's bound to be a lot of static and odd phraseology as it attempts to adjust to new technologies. These new technologies - the internet, self publishing on the rise and those damned graphic novels and manga just to name a few - are chipping away at the set of controls that the Book Industry has taken for granted for many decades. Just like file-sharing is forcing music executives to adjust to an atmosphere where they don't hold all the cards and are forced to adapt. Exciting times!

Kate S. said...

Gata,

I agree. I still read the review pages in the newspaper, but I'm much more likely to pick up a book recommended by a fellow blogger whose opinion I've grown to trust.


House of Parlance,

I found the final panel exciting as well. I felt a bit as if the thing was just getting started at that point. I think they ought to have had Albert Lai speak earlier in the day, shake the crowd up a bit from the start. I got the impression that some of the things that he was talking about that seemed very basic to me were startling and bewildering to others in the crowd. I did have lots of good one-on-one conversations with industry folk during the trade show itself that suggested that there are people out there who are open to and excited by change. Exciting times indeed!

Janelle Martin said...

I really wish I could have been there, the description of the day did sound fascinating. I was looking forward to hearing what they had to say about litblogs and how they can connect to readers.

I was only able to make it to the trade show on Monday but was pleased with how a few publicists reacted to me as a blogger on books.

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