The topic on the minds of everyone in publishing these days is the constant change within the industry—eBooks, digital reading devices, Amazon.com vs. Barnes & Noble, etc.

The 2012 O'Reilly Tools of Change (TOC) for Publishing Conference in New York (February 13-15) addresses all that and more. It is the sixth annual meeting of professionals and companies engaged with the next generation of publishing. With tutorials, workshops and presentations covering new business models and breakthrough technologies, this sold-out conference is proof that the industry has an exciting future.

BookPage talked to Kat Meyer, one of the Program Chairs of the upcoming TOC Conference, to get a closer look at the conference.

BP: How would you explain TOC to the average reader? Why should the general reader be interested in TOC?

KM: TOC is a tech and publishing industry forum where executives and practitioners from both camps meet to discuss the rapidly transforming world of content. We are focused on the effects of technology and new tools, skills and practices for book publishing, but have increasingly opened up the programming to include more from other media, since digital content is converging, and all of us can learn from one another.

The general reader should be interested in TOC because it is where the future of reading is being planned and discussed. That means everything in the reading ecosystem – from libraries to ereading, to bookselling and editorial practices. The conversations informing the cutting edge changes that greatly affect how readers access content are happening place at TOC.

TOC bills itself as a "knowledge aggregator." What does that mean, and why is it important?

TOC gathers together the best and brightest industry leaders from across a number of disciplines. We are focused on all facets of publishing: trade, STM, academic, indie, regional, religious – and as mentioned – we invite points of view from across media – newspapers, magazines, transmedia. In addition, TOC goes out of the way to find speakers from around the world and to bring in voices that are important, but maybe marginalized by the industry.

This is extremely important because we’re an increasingly borderless and global community. Content and access to it affects everyone. Bringing leaders and new voices from all parts of the ecosystem together for a discussion about where reading and publishing are headed, and how to work together for the best possible outcomes is crucial during this time of rapid change.

What speakers and topics at this year's conference are you most excited about?

There are so many topics and speakers at TOC this year to be excited about. Top of the list for me is "Reading Rainbow" star LeVar Burton (aka Geordi LaForge of “Star Trek Next Genration”). He’s our opening keynote and will no doubt be an inspiring start to a conference devoted to the future of publishing and reading.

In addition, we are covering a number of issues related to the importance of data gathering and interpretation as it applies to publishing – and we’re lucky to have O’Reilly’s own analyst Roger Magoulas on hand to put Big Data into a perspective that publishers can learn from. Peter Brantley will be leading a stellar panel exploring how libraries and publishers can work together to make digital reading and lending a win for all parties involved (including authors), and we’ll be taking a look at the importance of copyright with the brilliant William Patry. There are a vast and varied number of sessions and events that will be taking place along with these highlights. I encourage everyone to check out the program online.

What new technologies do you predict will make the greatest impact on the publishing industry in 2012?

Wow – it’s hard to predict what new technologies will impact the industry in 2012, but it’s fair to say that e-reading has a firm foothold in our culture, and that grip is going to get ever tighter. HTML5 is deservedly receiving a fair amount of attention (and Sanders Kleinfeld is presenting a great workshop on why and how HTML5 offers a lot to publishers). I’d also offer that there will be a lot of money and effort going toward “discovery” tools for content this year. As an industry, we’ve gotten really good at creating tools for making content, but not so great at making tools for finding it. We have long relied upon people – reviewers, booksellers (and in turn, sales reps), librarians, etc. to help us find books and content to meet our needs and desires. Now that the content is endless, and there’s only so much time in the day, any tools that will truly help curate the content will be in great demand.

Can you give an example of a "cutting-edge" speaker at this year's conference? Why did you seek out this person for TOC?

Tim Carmody, a writer for WIRED magazine and a Book Futurist, is definitely a cutting-edge speaker in my book (hah – no pun intended). Why? Much of his publishing-related journalistic work melds the importance of reading with the technologies and changes in the commerce, production and distribution of content that are impacting reading in our society today. He brings an understanding as an academic, a tech and culture journalist, and a true reader that give him incredible insight into where all of these changes might be leading us.

How has TOC changed and adapted in the last six years?

TOC has always been ahead of the curve with regard to how content’s production and dissemination is evolving. Now that the mainstream part of the publishing industry has seen the light, so to speak, it’s our mission to continue providing a platform for exploring the evolution of the tools of publishing, but just as much or more so to provide a forum for sharing across and within all content industries and all markets. We are producing TOCs on a global and regional scale now, with TOCs specifically for the Frankfurt Book Fair (we just had our third and most successful TOC Frankfurt last October), the Bologna International Children’s Book Fair (our 2nd annual takes place March 18) and will be adding TOCs in Buenos Aires, Spain and Asia this year. Providing thought leadership for specific publishing markets and sharing what each market is doing with the rest of the world – that’s where TOC will continue to grow and adapt.

How do you predict the eBook market will evolve between now and next year's conference?

We’ll continue to see growth, no doubt. What we can’t predict is in what forms, formats and markets we’ll see the most growth. What is really exciting is the new markets that eBooks open up for content publishers. Studies show that people are reading more and more – largely due to the prevalence of computers and mobile devices in their day to day lives. And, in parts of the world where printed books are luxuries, reading on “dumb” mobile phones could create access to information for a huge portion of the population.

Your site went dark on January 18 in protest of SOPA. Can you explain why you felt strongly enough to speak out against this legislation in such a blatant way?

SOPA legislation—touted as a way to protect the rights of IP holders—in fact, did very little to address the bigger issues surrounding copyright. It did a lot to potentially chip away at freedom of speech. O’Reilly strongly believes that much more discussion and research needs to be done around the issue of digital piracy before we willingly allow any legislation which erodes either rights to speech OR unduly hinders innovation in industry.

{Thanks, Kat! Find out more on the TOC website, and stay tuned for more coverage—including links to video presentation—here on The Book Case.}

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