Friday, July 03, 2009

Kevin Chapman, M.D.Hachette NZ
Originally published by Book Brunch.

The tyranny of distance.
That was a recurring theme at the “Future of the Book” conference held in New Zealand last week. Originally, the term was used by a speaker in an optimistic mode, referring to the hope that digital publishing would free the New Zealand book community from the disadvantages that distance brought to the printed book, such as the time and cost of shipping print across the world.
By the end of the conference the term was being raised again, but in respect of the limited supply of both reading devices (neither the Sony reader nor the Kindle is available in New Zealand), and the e-books themselves. For those who choose to buy e-books to read on their desktops or a device such as an iPhone, supply of titles in New Zealand is very limited compared to larger markets.

The conference was organized by a publishing ginger group led by Auckland publisher Martin Taylor. He formed the Digital Publishing Forum ( and obtained substantial funding to deliver an impressive line-up. Over 150 publishers, librarians, authors and booksellers were treated to speakers such as;

- Neelan Choksi – developer of the Stanza e-book reader for the iPhone
- Dr Sherman Young – academic and author of “The Book is Dead:Long Live the Book”
- Richard Pipe of digital production company InfoGrid Pacific Pte Ltd
- Michael Ross – Senor Vice-President of Britannica, and many other notables in the area in both New Zealand and Australia.

Participants saw examples of new technology, talked copyright, distribution systems, e-marketing, and the role of digital product in schools and libraries. There was spirited debate over the future of the printed book, and the role of reading devices (many speakers saw such devices as the Kindle and the Sony as merely transitional to more multiple-use products). Separate streams existed at one point for educational and consumer sessions.

Perhaps the other recurring theme was the force that consumers bring to the process of technological change. Speaker after speaker reinforced that consumers will find, and choose, the most accessible and attractive products, and that suppliers of content ignore that at their peril. As one delegate was heard to mutter in a homage to the great political truism “its about the consumer, stupid!”.

The conference was widely viewed as a major success, though many in the audience felt that it had merely scratched the surface of what was needed in terms of education. To that end the Forum plans other follow-up events before the end of the year. Details of the conference and other Forum events is on the website listed above.

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