Writing on the Ether: Conference Gemütlichkeit

Writing on the Ether: Publishing Conference Gemutlich

iStockphoto / sebastian-julian

Conference Gemütlichkeit

So when the publishing gets weird, the weird go to conferences. Digital conferences. Transmedia conferences. Convene and confer. Confab and rehab.

Early bird discounts are extended to all. Then simply extended. And extended. Do not attempt to adjust the verticals of F+W Media, they’re bigger than you. A #toccon is a token of meaningful mingling. AWP 2012 started registration eight months, count ’em, eight months ahead this year.

In the last 10 days, San Francisco was host to several conferences of note: the second annual Books in Browsers from TOC-heavy O’Reilly Media and the Internet Archive; the debut transmedia-trek StoryWorld from F+W; and the latest in Publishers Launch’s eBooks for Everyone Else series from Mike Shatzkin and Michael Cader.


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Maybe this is why Publishers Lunch has a section called “People, Etc.” I think I sat pretty close to Etc. at StoryWorld.

And I was welcomed into a Parc 55 Wyndham elevator by an Oktoberfestive Lufthansa crew. They’d all brought Lederhosen for Halloween.

We’re going as Bavarians!

We wiedersehen-ed each other before I thought to ask whether I existed in their storyworld or they in mine. And after a couple of days’ expert debate on the “rabbit hole” of story immersion, I’ve concluded that bunnies and Bavarians are unusually avid participants in narrative.


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With conference season flaring to life, I propose a Publishing Conferees’ Pile of Wishes for organizers. In the interactive spirit of transmedia, I invite you to join me. For starters:

  1. We need tables. Rows of hotel ballroom chairs are for wedding receptions.
  2. Tablecloths? Tell the hotel no. Or serve us dinner.
  3. We need electrical power sources on all those tables. Don’t leave us to our own devices without a way to power them.
  4. I stress power sources on tables. Who wants Etc. crawling around underneath to plug in?
  5. We need enough bandwidth to flame a battleship. Lay it on. You want us tweeting your confab, right?–best real-time ads money can’t buy.
  6. And we need two-sided name tags that can flip around backward and still show your info. So we don’t hoist ourselves on our own halyards trying to ID our colleagues.
  7. An attendee roster and message system (opt-in, of course). So we know who’s there and can reach them. So much texting of “Wait, you’re at which big post in the lobby? Wearing what?”

And now, add your own requests. Jane’s comments area is a storyworld unto itself. Join me in letting our publishing conferences’ fine organizers know what you’d like to see at these events.

And we’ll start with Books in Browsers, then look at StoryWorld.


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Books in Browsers: buddy system

Maybe it was the great weather, the tasty catering (with options for vegans, of course) or the mere fact that we were in San Francisco, but I found myself longing for a good fiery fight at the Books in Browsers conference last Thursday and Friday. The second-annual event hosted by the Internet Archive and O’Reilly Media featuring a roster of blue sky thinkers, practitioners and visionaries — was surprisingly conciliatory.  Happy even. What gives? Isn’t publishing in crisis?

Edward Nawotka‘s look-back is as personable and convivial as the conference, itself. O’Reilly’s estimable Kat Meyer and the Archive’s Peter Brantley provided a robust live stream of both days. Granted, things got mildly Kumbaya at #bib11, but that’s the trend at most conferences. Focus and friendship breed sentimentality in “sharing.”

As Nawotka notes, the emphasis at times seemed to be “on everything but narrative and storytelling.” And, he observes, “Amazon, is being looked on with increasing suspicion … referred to euphemistically as  “Our Friends in Seattle”.

I recommend Guy LeCharles Gonzalez‘s gracious Richard Nash on Cursor and the “F” Word on Nash‘s gutsy presentation at bib11 about his failed Red Lemona.de project. There at Books in Browsers was Nash:

Finally acknowledging his boast of launching 50,000 independent publishers was a bit too, let’s charitably call it … ambitious.

And in O’Reilly’s archive of the conference videos, you can see Nash’s presentation: “Yeah, I know; I f–ked up.”

I also like Brantley’s enthusiasm in a Publishers Weekly blog post on the SheevaPlug Pathagar, Libraries: Together or Apart

This is an astounding project–originally designed to work with One Laptop Per Child networks, but made more generic–enabling the placement of digital libraries in the most remote corners of the globe.

Nate Holffelder writes up one of the most succinct presentations of the #BiB11 conference in This Could Be (Is) The Future of Digital Comics on a project by Pablo Defendini with Tobias S. Buckell

Pablo Defendini

Image from Pablo Defendini’s demo for Books in Browsers: responsive comic


The reason I like this concept is that he’s doing things I haven’t seen before in digital comics. The only digital comics I’ve seen all involved a static page image. Even the ones with directed reading (like comiXology) are based around static page images. Pablo’s demo is not.

Here’s Defendini’s slide set and video of him showing his responsive comic. At around 6:15, watch him shoot his iPhone in action with his iPad’s camera for his demo. Surprised chuckles all around.

Charlotte Abbott has this write-up on Books in Browsers for Publishers Weekly: Digital Transition Questions Examined at Books in Browsers Conference. David Streitfeld led his piece for the Times, Books Unbound, by sending everyone back to the bar: “Is any form of traditional media under more assault than the book?”

Others I recommend from the conference are the busy Kevin Franco‘s talk on Personalization in Transmedia Storytelling and Hugh McGuire on The Beauty of Web-first Work Flows.


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Head spinning yet? ‘Engine of the engagement economy’

As I fill up your weekend with things to watch and read, I want to suggest you look with special attention at Brian O’Leary‘s presentation in San Francisco on The Opportunity in Abundance, video or text.  O’Leary is our main man in publishing foresight, admired for his unusual ability to gather, link, and interpret issues of content and distribution.

Specifically, before we turn to the StoryWorld conference, ponder a set of four defining needs that O’Leary sets up early in his Books in Browsers talk. This is stabilizing as a starting point. And it’s seminal for its potential impetus throughout publishing. Here’s O’Leary, and the emphasis is mine:

• We need goals, a redefinition of what publishing is and why it matter.  That is, we need to reposition publishing as the engine of the engagement economy;
• We need rules, a set of principles that are based in fairness and recognize that we have to balance current requirements with some, perhaps many, future unknowns;
• We need feedback, a shared way to model new approaches, test assumptions and make decisions based in fact; and
• We need a hook, a reason to collaborate

There’s more conceptual guidance coming from O’Leary and his colleague Hugh McGuire as we see the rollout of the new Pressbooks initiative for multiplatform publication: O’Leary announced at Books in Browsers that Book: A Futurist’s Manifesto is readable at no charge. You’ll find it moves you forward:

The way we think about book, magazine, and newspaper publishing is unduly governed by the physical containers we have used for centuries to transmit information.


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StoryWorld: cartographers needed

What I see missing from many of these conversations and theories about multi-platform storytelling is how stories themselves actually build and flourish. Transmedia itself … is often thought of as a series of actions that happen between or across media or the transfer of messages—this isn’t “wrong” per se, but it tends to neglect the nuances of human behavior, the levers for why people share stories to begin with and how they connect to each other through different narrative forms.

Gunther Sonnenfeld spoke on a StoryWorld panel called “Measuring Multiplatform IP.” (IP, as in intellectual property.) His article, Superstar Beyoncé explained through a narrative ecosystem, might have made a great pre-conference primer for many attendees of #swc11.

The story remains crucial to transmedia. A transmedia project should not originate from the desire to make use of new technology, but from the desire to tell a captivating story.

That’s Christine Weitbrecht, who has put together useful recaps of StoryWorld conference sessions here and here.

Weitbrecht’s overview captures a sense that the conference was an arrival, a coming-of-recognition, if not of -age, for workers in transmedia. And it’s better earned than you might think. Yes, the #bestever! reactions to just about anything that moved were over the top. But no more so than the  squeals of delight coming from Books in Browsers. What’s more, many of the concepts in this sector of the business lean closer to the West Coast and to Canadian production hubs than to New York. Nothing wrong with that.

But legal issues in multiplatform work can be fiendish, even as it potentially spawns any number of revenue streams (may we all be so lucky). And Simon Pulman, one of my favorite commentators on transmedial issues in New York, wrote well to the point following StoryWorld’s legal panel, in Storyworld: Practical Legal Considerations

I began to notice audience members becoming disillusioned and discouraged, particularly when considering the expensive hourly cost of a seasoned attorney. I think it’s a dangerous situation to allow fear to chill potential creativity.

And as we all cheered Alison Norrington, whose efforts in pulling off this first StoryWorld were a major niche-triumph, I couldn’t help but notice how many StoryWorld speakers made wistful references to maps, especially Tolkien’s. There’s a longing here for guidance. At least for wider understanding, which StoryWorld can certainly help address over time. As author Bob Mayer wrote, before speaking at the Publishers Launch conference:

Jeff Gomez said that a big problem he sees, particularly in publishing, is that the author isn’t involved in the development of the other media.  I totally agree with that.  A book comes from a single idea the author has.  It gets translated into story.  The problem is someone taking the story into another medium, might not actually know the original idea.  Thus the classic:  the book was better than the movie; or the video game.


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More commentary, recaps and reviews of StoryWorld are being gathered here by Terre Britten. And Portland-based developer and writer Jason LaPier has been kind enough to pull together my own tweet-storm from the conference, organized by session.

Who would I like to have seen on a panel? James Bridle of London. His presentation back at Books in Browsers, like his article, The New Value of Text, echoes the relentless efforts Norrington makes to root the StoryWorld community in story first, world second. I’ll let Bridle play us out of confab city:

Text lasts. It’s not platform-dependant, you don’t just get it from one source, read it in one place, understand it in one way. It is not dependent on technology: it is what we make technology out of. Code is text, it is the fundamental nature of technology. We’ve been trying for decades, since the advent of hypertext fiction, of media-rich CD-ROMs, to enhance the experience of literature with multimedia. And it has failed, every time. Yet we are terrified that in the digital age, people are constantly distracted. That they’re shallower, lazier, more dazzled.


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For writers: a post with genuine oompah

The disadvantage for independent authors is their lack of knowledge about what professional quality is or looks like. Traditionally published authors who go indie don’t have this problem as much. They know the process; they know the huge improvements that can be made by a professional. But people who haven’t experienced that professional touch may not yet have a good measuring stick—which only further necessitates the involvement of a professional, whether on the editing, production, or promotion side.

Maybe the most welcome development of the week in blogs for writers was the groundbreaking essay posted by Jane Friedman–host of this weekly column. It was in her monthly guest commentary at Writer Unboxed, titled Self-Published Authors Have Great Power, But Are They Taking Responsibility? The age of amateurism, as some call it, is cherished nowhere more fervently than among inexperienced writers who hear gleeful prompts to self-publish on all sides. Kudos to Jane for saying the difficult thing, as usual both with compassion and commitment. And if you didn’t get to see the post when it came out, do have a look now.


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Your Guardian bot

The Guardian is experimenting with a new Twitter-based service, and would like your help to test it out. @GuardianTagBot is a Twitter account set up for our content API robot, TagBot. If you tweet it with a search term on your phone or online, it will then send you a link to our latest coverage that best matches what you were looking for. It’s rather like playing fetch with our articles, videos, galleries and audio.

Potentially an aid in research for writers, the paper in London is Introducing @GuardianTagBot, your new Twitter-based search assistant


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What’s the Ether without the aroma of Amazon?

When paidContent’s Laura Hazard Owen looked at what track record is discernible, she came up with The Truth About Amazon Publishing:

It will be interesting to see if (Larry) Kirshbaum can use his connections to woo a major fiction author from a traditional publishing house—someone like David Baldacci or Nicholas Sparks. Beyond that challenge, Amazon will have to increase its outreach to bookstores and also solve its Barnes & Noble problem. Sure, it’s the digital age. But Amazon Publishing hasn’t killed print yet.

Fellow Bavarians, take heart.

Porter Anderson

Porter Anderson is a Fellow with the National Critics Institute, and a senior producer and consultant formerly with the United Nations World Food Programme in Rome and INDEX: Design to Improve Life in Copenhagen. As a journalist, he has worked with media including CNN, the Village Voice, and the Dallas Times Herald. He’s based in Tampa.



Posted in Writing on the Ether.

Porter Anderson / @Porter_Anderson

View posts by Porter Anderson / @Porter_Anderson

Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson) is a journalist and consultant in publishing. He's The Bookseller's (London) Associate Editor in charge of The FutureBook. He's a featured writer with Thought Catalog (New York), which carries his reports, commentary, and frequent Music for Writers interviews with composers and musicians. And he's a regular contributor of "Provocations in Publishing" with Writer Unboxed. Through his consultancy, Porter Anderson Media, Porter covers, programs, and speaks at publishing conferences and other events in Europe and the US, and works with various players in publishing, such as Library Journal's SELF-e, Frankfurt Book Fair's Business Club, and authors. You can follow his editorial output at Porter Anderson Media, and via this RSS link.

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Viki Noe

A lot to think about, as always, Porter, especially this early in the morning. But I’m just going to address your suggestions for conferences. I was stunned at Writers Digest last January to find the hotel internet connection to be, shall we say, spotty. Poor Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, lacking a connection until the second half of his presentation. I was lucky to have my own 3G in my netbook, so I wasn’t dependent on the Sheraton (just the whims of AT&T). So my list would go like this: 1. Strong, reliable internet connections. No excuses. 2. Not everyone drinks coffee:… Read more »

Porter Anderson

Whoa, @friendgrief:twitter , I’ll never get up early enough to get ahead of a list like that. 🙂 Excellent suggestions, Viki, especially with the food (which I’m sure can be an incredibly annoying problem) and the booze, yes… could we get 24-hour drinks on the tables WITH the power supply? Just kidding. Sort of. 🙂  Everytime I’m still live-tweeting at about 4p on a panel at one of these things, I’m sure I’m about to write #bloodymary into every tweet, I tell you. I do remember the awful wi-fi issues at WDC10, and now I’m using my own Verizon MiFi… Read more »

Viki Noe

Pitchers of bloody marys on each table…would be be too much to ask? Of course, Jeanne Bowerman would prefer pitchers of margaritas, but I’m flexible. 😉

Hugh McGuire

what an awesome sum-up.

Porter Anderson

Thanks, Hugh, I’ve thoroughly appreciated your presentation at bib11, and was just telling @katmeyer:twitter I’ve been kicking myself for not getting into SFO a couple of days ahead of #swc11 so I could be there in person. But her @TOC:twitter  livestream was extremely good and I’m routing people, as you can see, to the videos and presos like mad. Major moves with @pressbooks:twitter, too, congrats on that and please keep me posted on developments –

Hugh McGuire

what an awesum sum-up.

[…] Writing on the Ether | Jane Friedman Did you leave your transmedia in San Francisco? The first StoryWorld and the second annual Books in Browsers: Writing on the Ether is a weekly round-up of the best articles, news, and analysis on the writing and media industry. Source: janefriedman.com […]

Lorraine Hopping Egan

Agree with all conf suggestions, tho there was an opt-in database with messaging for StoryWorld—not well promoted or used, unfortunately. 
My tips:
Fewer panels and talking heads, more workshops and small topical discussions. Two-way conversations, not one-way.More “we” and “you” and less “I.”Post the Twitter stream live, on video, during talks, for all to see—back channel becomes front channel.Solicit questions online AHEAD of each panel of session, so moderator can channel discussion better, presenters can respond to all.

Porter, thanks again for the helpful tweet stream—sign posts, they were.

That’s why you’re the smart one, Lorraine, I looked all over the site the other day and couldn’t find an internal messaging system, though I felt sure there would have been one, based on my experience with other FW projects. And these are SUPER suggestions, Lorraine, I particularly love the idea of letting attendees get ahead of sessions with questions and using the backchannel up front. ( @JaneFriedman:twitter is great at that, I’ve seen her pull up the stream on screens right off the bat, so smart to do.) Always the problem, the talking heads huh? That dialogue format we… Read more »

kathleen pooler

Porter, Thanks for another whirlwind tour of the current publishing world. So much happening and yet through it all, it seems that story still rules (and Amazon hasn’t killed print yet!) Your “tweet storm” leaves me feeling like I have attended three conferences simultaneously. Tweet on and we will all be better informed and richly entertained!

Porter Anderson

Hey, Kathy, and thanks for the lovely words … feeling a little like I was at three of them simultaneously, too, lol, but so many new dimensions are out there, it’s great to see such range of thought in action. StoryWorld was an education, in part, because it brought “us” (the NYC-centered end of the biz) much more into contact with “them” (the Hollywood-leaning contingent) than usual, and that alone was really interesting to see. We talked monetizing a lot, LOL.  Really appreciate your reading, commenting, and tweeting, thanks! -p.

Donna Amis Davis

I have a question about the digital book world that I haven’t seen addressed much yet. What about pirating? We have a friend, a 20-something young man, who offered us a file with 1000 books on it. He said it contained all of Grisham’s books, all of Stephen King’s books, and on and on. We didn’t take him up on it. My question is, the younger group knows how to get things off the internet for free. What will happen to authors’ incomes over the next generation as fewer and fewer people feel obligated to pay for things they can… Read more »

Porter Anderson

Donna, I think @JennWebb:twitter at @radar:twitter has had one of the better high views of the piracy issue, which is vexing — not least because it’s recognized by many of our best people as a failure of distribution and pricing at least as much as a success in illegal activity. Here is Jenn from March on it http://ow.ly/7j77K  and do note the related links on the story at the bottom. One is to @brianoleary:twitter and his material. He’s quoted in the piece and is easily one of the very best thinkers on this topic we have anywhere. Hope that helps… Read more »

This represents a lot of work, Porter. And no small amount of careful listening, research and reporting. Thanks for all the effort! I read Jane’s post, which I had missed. Lots to chew on. Thanks again.

Porter Anderson

Hey, @thewritermama:twitter ! (I do love making those @Twitter:twitter  handles show up in these comments, lol). Thanks so much for the kind words, Christina — if I told you about the flight out of San Francisco that had no wi-fi connections (best laid plans) and the broken pair of eyeglasses, I’d be into a novella, so I won’t start. 🙂  Needless to say, I really appreciate your thoughtful comments, thanks for reading. And yes, we are in The Prime of Miss @JaneFriedman:twitter these days, she’s been on an incredible roll with great posts lately, I follow her everywhere. 🙂

[…] Writing on the Ether | Jane Friedman Did you leave your transmedia in San Francisco? The first StoryWorld and the second annual Books in Browsers: Writing on the Ether is a weekly round-up of the best articles, news, and analysis on the writing and media industry. Source: janefriedman.com […]

[…] recap of recent conferences including @StoryWorldConf from @Porter_Anderson, Writing on the Ether https://janefriedman.com/2011/11/03/writing-on-the-ether-10/ #swc11 Tweets [permalink] [tweet] [No comments] Tweets none […]

Kevin Franco

Porter, great article. But, I now question why I go to these conferences when you’ve covered them so well! I am one of the lucky two fortunate enough to participate in both conferences in person. And, even though I was there, I found myself following your tweets as each speaker made their talk for added commentary. Your inclusion of some of these tweets in your article is brilliant and helps me to recollect the events and thoughts that came from the talks. It was a pleasure meeting you at SWC – perhaps we’ll meet again at DBW or TOC –… Read more »

[…] Writing on the Ether – Jane Friedman Did you leave your transmedia in San Francisco? The first StoryWorld and the second annual Books in Browsers: Writing on the Ether is a weekly round-up of the best articles, news, and analysis on the writing and media industry. Source: janefriedman.com […]


[…] few links to other roundups of StoryWorld — Porter Anderson’s Writing on the Ether; Sparksheet’s Finding the Story; Simon Staffans’ Storyworld and the Real World; Simon […]


[…] Jane Friedman: Writing on the Ether So when the publishing gets weird, the weird go to conferences. Digital conferences. Transmedia […]

[…] of generous people willing to offer time, help and expertise. My favorites are Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, and Bob Mayer.  And if you are an unpublished […]


[…] kinds of generous people willing to offer time, help and expertise. My favorites are Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, and Bob Mayer. And if you are an unpublished […]

[…] Self-Published Authors Have Great Power, But Are They Taking Responsibility? I quoted it here last week. It’s roughly summarize-able this way: Don’t throw publishing professionalism […]

[…] Opportunity in Abundance presentation from Peter Brantley and O’Reilly’s Books in Browsers conference. Visser, in Sticking a toe in the e-book tsunami , goes for the emotional heat that simmers under […]

[…] Opportunity in Abundance presentation from Peter Brantley and O’Reilly’s Books in Browsers conference. Visser, in Sticking a toe in the e-book tsunami , goes for the emotional heat that simmers under […]

[…] the catch-all phrase we all tossed around last year (50 Ethers ago) at the San Francisco debut of this F+W Media conference probably lends itself more readily to the #transmediapickuplines with […]