It shouldn’t be surprising that arriving at the world’s largest trade show would offer a one-of-a kind experience. No, not the 2 million sq. feet of exhibition space or the nearly 3,000 companies exhibiting. It was the jaw-dropping length of the taxi lines at McCarran airport that wound around in a depressing loop de loop of cranky travelers dubious of ever reaching their hotels.
But after finally arriving at our hotel—me and wife/multimedia professor/artist-photographer Jody are at the Luxor, a hilariously impressive recreation of an Egyptian Pyramid complete with a mammoth Sphinx—and later the cavernous Las Vegas Convention Center, I noticed the seemingly complete absence of book publishing folk at CES 2011. This is the first time PW has covered CES on the ground, so feeling a little full of myself it occurred to me that at a time when the industry is going through seismic changes and when pretty much any device with a screen is a de facto book reader, that publishers should also be on the ground at a show like this just to check out the lay of the digital landscape.
Of course there are lots of good reasons why book publishers would not be exhibiting here; from cost of attending to the conflict this year with ALA. But I decided to go on a parallel quest—along with my primary task, essentially counting new tablet computers on display at CES—to both find some book people and ask them how they were using the show. While I didn’t find a lot, I certainly found a few. Starting with Brett Sandusky, a smart new media guy (I follow him on Twitter @bsandusky) who heads up new product development at education and test prep publisher Kaplan. We found Brett, naturally, at the HigherEd Tech Summit, an all day mini-conference on Thursday that featured panels on Education and educational publishing as well as WSJ tech columnist Walter Mossberg, and we spent a good bit of time yakking about devices (10” tablets versus 7” tablets versus iOS4 versus Android, and so on) and where this whole tech revolution was taking publishing.
Early on I got a tweet from Kate Rados (@katerados), group marketing director at F+W media, at the show accompanied by an executive v-p, checking with F+W partners and looking to learn about new devices and sign new content deals. Rados is a lively Twitter personality and seems to personify the new media book professional—tech savvy, a device nut with a background in TV as well as books and a fixture at digital conferences. We gabbed about, what else, where were all the book publishers and what was the next important conference they should be attending—South By Southwest (SXSW), she says without hesitation, the supremely geeky Austin conference focused on emerging technologies in music, interactivity and film. “Publishers need to be anyplace where new ideas are being tested,” she said.
OK, but I had found a few publishing folk—including Magellan’s Brian O’Leary (@brianoleary), digital piracy researcher, new media consultant and Twitter wag, who was walking the floor on Friday—so I went off to find more. I headed straight over to the booth of e-book distributor OverDrive and sat down with CEO Steve Potash, who corrected some of my presumptions. According to Potash, publisher representative are at the show. “All the major trade publishers have representatives here,” said Potash, specifically counting off HarperCollins, Wiley, Hachette and others. “They’re walking the floor and meeting with us. They know the importance of this show,” said Potash
After being reassured by Steve, my quest for book folk continued with renewed enthusiasm. I hooked up with Antony Antolino (@AnthonyAntolino), former executive with Copia, the recently launched social network/e-book retailing platform, who has been attending CES for 12 years and we talked bout the future of books and the new business models that may emerge. Antolino, a self-described “business guy,” is consulting these days, looking to move into a new business sector, while taking the same approach he did launching Copia—combining sales with social media to create a platform not just for selling but to allow consumers to talk about the products and services they like and don’t like.
The quest continued, meeting up with School Library Journal tech editor Kathy Ishizuka (@kishizuka) for dinner and talking about libraries, and then I got a heads up from New York that Rick Richter, the former head of S&S Children’s publishing, was at the show. Richter is now a full-fledged new media publisher after launching the children’s app publishing venture Ruckus Media with his business partner Jim Young. We caught up with Richter and Young outside the mammoth Central Hall and talked futurepub. Although Ruckus isn’t exhibiting, Richter said he was at CES because “We’re here because we need to know about every new device that will be displaying our content and their platforms.” And Young pointed out that CES is important not only for the devices on display, “ but to figure out how they will effect, “the future of storytelling. This is the place to find out.”
So yes, publishers are at CES in one way or another. But as the industry lurches through one paradigm shift after another, is simply walking the floor and checking in with your e-book vendor enough for a show like CES? Should book publishers be exhibitors, or perhaps should the AAP be an exhibitor and act as an information clearing house for manufacturers looking for new content partners? To paraphrase Rados, publishers come to CES to meet with the partners you know and look around for the partners you don’t know. Any Comments on publishers at the Consumer Electronics Show?