SXSW 2012 Digital Publishing Recap

Big line for SXSW

Big line for SXSW

SxSW Interactive for 2012 has come to a close. Bizarre weather, perennial connectivity issues and abused feet aside; I’m calling the show a success. Any wrap-up post you read will be by definition narrowly focused, as it’s impossible for one person or dedicated small group of collaborators to see everything. SXSW is simply too large for that. My attention was focused on digital publishing, Google+, and cigars & beer. In that order. As the latter two aren’t topics we cover on this blog, I’ll share my thoughts on the former with you.

Digital Publishing Nuggets from SXSW 2012

Remember that SXSW is not a publishing conference. Even so, I found 40 panels that would be of interest to the digital author, with the majority being laser-focused on digital publishing. I attended many (but by no means all) and came away with the following insights. If you attended others, YMMV.

Publishing is in chaos

No surprise there, right? But that chaos is having an interesting effect on industry insiders, established authors and lone indie or self-published authors. The group that got the most attention by far were the industry insiders. Even in 2012, deep within the self-publishing revolution, the industry still has pull. And pull is important when trying to get picked for a panel at SXSW. (Note to self: invite a friendly insider to be part of your proposed presentation next year.)

I already knew the industry was not happy with the realities of digital publishing. But I was a little taken aback by how vehemently they would fight to maintain the status quo. Which is an inevitable losing battle. The insiders I heard spent most of their time trying to convince fellow panelists, the audience, and perhaps themselves that their existing model was still relevant. And I agree. Digital publishing doesn’t negate publishing-as-a-business at all. But what they didn’t talk about was how digital publishing is changing their existing business practices to allow them to do more great things for more authors. And even if that isn’t their goal, I expected them to talk about how they can at least do better things for their existing authors with the changes digital publishing provides.

The juxtaposition from established authors published through the Big Six was interesting. Most are experimenting with self-publishing, choosing titles that their publisher/agent didn’t pick up for one reason or another. Some are finding success on their own, only to find themselves wooed back to the comfy folds of the publishing industry. But they are wiser for their actions, and have learned valuable lessons about what publishers can and can’t do for them in today’s digital publishing world.

And finally, the indie or self-published author was well represented. In the audience, at least. Many publishing panels were packed, with a slew of underpublished authors trying to gain some insight into the changing world of digital publishing. If they attended the panels I did, then they received a mixed bag of information. I had private conversations with a few that I hope continue. I’m sure others have a similar story to tell. Next year, I think the voice of the indie author needs to be better represented on stage, not just in the audience. I have some ideas on how we can do that better. Stay tuned.

No presence for digital technology vendors

As previously stated, SxSW isn’t a publishing conference. But it most certainly is a technology conference, and I expected to see some representation from digital publishing vendors on the expo floor. No marketplaces. No software vendors. Nothing. And I was looking; trust me. Maybe it’s too early. Maybe the other giant publishing conferences are taking all the spotlight. Maybe the audience they need to reach just doesn’t attend SXSW in appreciable numbers. I hope that changes next year.

Let’s put digital publishing on the map at SXSW 2013

I made some great connections at SXSW 2012. I hope we can keep talking over the next few months. If things go well, I’m looking forward to an onslaught of digital publishing submissions next year, enticing even more authors to get to SXSW 2013. I look forward to seeing you there!

Disclaimer – SXSW is a long conference, with lots of hiking and late night activities. I wrote this in the airport waiting to return home, with some quick self-edits prior to hitting the PUBLISH button. If I were a smarter man, I’d let someone proof this. But I want it out. So please forgive if you find anything terribly heinous. I blame it on little sleep! – Evo