TOC: "The fans are in charge"

TOC: "The fans are in charge"

Optimism, cross-media and shifting publishing powerbases were some of the main themes emphasised at the Tools of Change New York digital conference which wrapped yesterday (14th February).

In his keynote, O’Reilly Media and TOC founder Tim O’Reilly said he wanted to emphasise cause for optimism amid all the naysayers, and began by asserting that “copyright common sense is more common now".

Then there’s the little fact that print books aren’t dead. Yes, e-book revenue surpassed hardcover revenue and in O’Reilly’s case, printed computer books have been falling year after year since 2005, “but this year we’re ahead of last—maybe there’s some kind of equilibrium”.

O’Reilly reckons “the fear that new things are bad is going away,” and “opportunities are becoming clear to people who are not afraid”. He pointed to one such, the review-sharing platform Goodreads, where “the fans are in charge and not the big retailers".

Another opportunity is in cross-media. O’Reilly pointed to YA author John Green—who has used video blogs and a sold-out concert tour to promote his books—saying if an author or publisher “thinks only about books and e-books, he’s missing something: the footprint online is bigger than the book”.

One of the more interesting panels in TOC’s Author Revolution stream was devoted to “Community-Driven Publishing”, with panelist Allen Lau, founder of the Toronto-based Wattpad, grabbing the most attention courtesy of some amazing numbers.

Wattpad, which Lau styles as “the world’s largest community of readers and writers”, is free to users and now boasts 14m unique monthly visitors who spend 2bn minutes on the site every month. It features more than 10m cumulative uploads of content from a huge range of authors running the gamut from the newest aspiring writer to Paulo Coehlo or Margaret Atwood (who has used Wattpad to serialise a story chapter by chapter). Every month another 1.5m uploads are being added.

“If you take away price, the reader pays more attention to content and to the relationship between author and reader. The focus is building that emotional relationship,” Lau asserted.

“We connect like-minded people very easily. In the past we relied on the bookstore to do curation. Now using technology and the power of the crowd, you can push relevant content to the right people in a targeted manner. We’ve seen writers from the site optioned for TV or picked up for publication by a traditional house.”