Book^2: The Unconference
|Book^2 Camp organizers Ami Greko, Kat Meyer and Chris Kubica lay out the schedule.|
At Book^2 (Book Squared) Camp, which took place Sunday afternoon in Workman Publishing offices in New York City, discussion topics for the "unconference" were chosen spontaneously by attendees, a diverse mix of booksellers, librarians and folks from both the print and digital publishing industries--many of them in town for this week's Tools of Change conference. In one morning session, attendees debated the merits of "closed" content models, from subscription-only access to the intentional scarcity of limited editions, as an alternative to putting everything online for free. The ability of writers to earn something for their work became a central issue; as Emily Gould, the co-founder of the digital book club Emily Books, put it, "The difference between a hobby and a business is profitability."
That theme popped up again in a later session called "Retail Zero," which asked what would happen to books if it ever came to pass that publishers and retailers decided that there was no profit to be made printing or selling books at the mass consumer level. Everyone seemed to agree there would be some people who'd still be compelled to write no matter what--but how would they support themselves? Would we see more authors competing for academic creative writing positions, or the rise of a "reading circuit" for those popular enough to attract audiences? Or would devoted readers turn to limited editions the way music collectors are willing to shell out for vinyl LPs? "If I had to pay $75 for a Toni Morrison hardcover, and that was my only choice," said one participant, "I'd have to do it."
Another discussion centered around the idea of adding a bookstore component to public libraries. One proposal was that libraries could act as showrooms, with customer orders being fulfilled by distributors. "I'd be willing to pay somewhere between full price and Amazon [for that]," someone admitted. There were, however, concerns about how political opponents might then use a library's bookselling revenues to advocate for reduced funding.
And, at the end of the day, after repeatedly circling around issues like "discoverability," somebody proposed: "What should we be talking about instead of all the stuff we talk about?" Unsurprisingly, that turned out to be a very popular topic. --Ron Hogan