Six good technological ideas for improving publishing

Here's Michael Tamblyn, the CEO of BookNet Canada, presenting six technology initiatives that could radically alter the course of publishing for the better. It's a refreshing presentation, focused on selling more paper books using better technology that improves workflow and marketing, while acknowledging that there's lots of room for improvement in ebook readers as well.

Michael Tamblyn - 6 Projects That Could Change Publishing for the Better (via Beyond the Beyond)


  1. Ugh… two minutes in, and he’s twice characterized a 48-year span as “30-odd years” and then gone on to show two completely arbitrary lists of events as being significantly tied to recessions, acknowledged the arbitrariness, and then gone on to make rhetorical use of them anyway.

  2. Agreed, this is nothing useful. A number of falsities:
    1. “Mobile electronics aren’t ‘sexy’ or somehow don’t have the appeal that bound books do.”
    Welcome to all aspects of technology. Game Boys weren’t sexy, but now how many people go out with a DS or PSP on their hip? Culture takes time.

    2. “Browsing books online hasn’t changed much.” Uh, yeah, it really has. Searching inside, searching via things like Google Books, these things seem pretty important.

    3. “Publishers should make available all sorts of sales data.” I’m all for corporate compassion, but if it were prudent for buyers to have this info, I’d like to believe that publishers would be capitalizing off it already. Maybe there is a way of streamlining this, but if so, this wasn’t presented.

    (And yeah, arbitrary retail events stuck on a line graph proves nothing.)

  3. I hereby publicly make a prediction that I’ve long held probable:

    The last bastion of paper book publishing will be creating short run or one-of-a-kind quality hardback books, with high-quality paper and leather covers (or covers of other high-quality special materials). Bibliophiles will always exist, but they will most become like other collectors of odd goods, desiring originals but also appreciating limited edition reprints.

    Everyone else will succumb to the lure of holding an entire library in their hands, and being able to update it wirelessly in realtime.

  4. 20 years ago I was promised that we would have on demand book printing and binding at every book store. I would be able to walk into the store, browse the books, browse a computer catalog, and the store would be able to print the book in a matter of minutes. full colour glossy coffee table books and cheap paperbacks. It never happened. Like my flying car, world peace, and many other great ideas.

    Books are shipped to the book store and back to the publisher in a back and forth fashion that is ridiculous. It didnt sell? Send it back. Sometimes the books get the covers ripped off to go back to the publisher and the books themselves are destroyed. Its nearly impossible to know what is going to sell from week to week, and keeping in only popular titles isnt going to help any book store compete.

    Only someone who sleeps in a cave things that electronic books arent sexy. Sure, you dont need to reboot your paper back, and sure coffee table books on a tiny screen dont cut it, but the electronic book serves so many other needs… And the readers? they are your phones, pdas, computers, devices people already carry around with them all the time. Amazingly convenient is sexy. I love the smell of books… but I’ve read voltaire’s candid on my razor.

    Why goto a book store to browse and order books when amazon has almost every title you could ever want; and sometimes links to ppl selling out of print books? unless the book store is a block or 2 away and you feel you need to support your community or because you refuse to make online purchases for various reasons, i see zero reason to step into a book store.

    Bottom line is this guy is an idiot.

  5. Whoa, Pyster! Just because someone has an opinion that you don’t share doesn’t make them an idiot. I agree with most of your points, but I think Michael Tamblyn makes some good ones too. I too disagree with his assessment of ebook readers not being sexy. The first Kindle was truly ugly, but the second one was a big step forward, and the red Sony Readers are hot looking IMO. (And BTW, I’ve tried reading on a RZR. Hated it.)

    I also disagree with Michael Tamblyn’s assessment on browsing. One thing that I have discovered from browsing–either with a search engine, or on a specific site–is that serendipity is alive and well on the Internet. I have stumbled across all sorts of excellent things by following threads.

    Other than that, I thought what he had to say was valuable, and I have shared the link with some of the people where I work.

  6. Serendipitously finding books is easy on the Internet, serendipitously bumping into another person browsing the books isn’t.

    Also while Amazons algorithms are strong if you know what you want/what your taste is, going to the bookstore with a salesperson you know and trust can be almost like a student/teacher experience. Much richer.

    Finally, at least in Germany, bookstores are much quicker. For almost anything I can call my bookstore and pick it up there the next day.

    I’m pretty sure paper books can coexist with digital readers peacefully (at least at a reduced volume). Last not least because there will always be people who want to take their paperback to the bathtub.

  7. I found this very entertaining. I’m not that up on the publishing process internals but I certainly agree we should be able to find out more about a book before we buy it.
    All of us prefer a certain range of writing styles and leafing through a book in a store tells us if the writer is compatible. I for one would like to be able to sample more of a book and also more of a CD or DVD before buying it.
    From the bookstore standpoint the ability to call up an author’s history in terms of sales would be a big help. No help to new writers or lesser known writers. They remain on the fringe no matter what.

  8. Well, I just wanted to say I thought this was a wonderful presentation. While I don’t agree with all of his points, I think by and large he had some remarkably astute observations, and his thinking on how the internals of the front list could be changed, and how the catalog could be reimagined, were particularly inspiring.

    As for his use of rhetoric, I think it was more drawn upon as a launching point to his talk than to try to convince anyone of anything. If you really need convincing that recessions can be times of great technological innovation, it would take an entire talk in itself.

    All in all, loved the talk. Would love to see a Catalog 2.0 in the coming years, and a central database of book data would be incredibly useful – not, as an earlier poster suggested, for end-users, but for everyone from bloggers to news media it would be fantastic.

  9. Game Boys weren’t sexy, but now how many people go out with a DS or PSP on their hip?

    Lol, that’s still not sexy… I think he made some good points with the ebook readers.

    Only someone who sleeps in a cave things that electronic books arent sexy.

    Taken out of context one could think these two statements are intentionally funny caricatures of geek mentality. ^^

    Everyone else will succumb to the lure of holding an entire library in their hands, and being able to update it wirelessly in realtime.

    I agree.

  10. I thought that aside from being a witty, lucid presentation, (to someone who has little interest or knowledge in this stuff) he has clearly given us 6 of the best that he’s been mulling over. Well thought-out from his perspective on the market, it’ll be intereting to think what the book making community think in response.

    And to all the kindle owners who got offended by this, relax. They are not sexy items, he didn’t call you unsexy, he’s just pointing out that people don’t buy an ebook to look attractively broody. There’s just a potential market for black moleskine ebooks that’s all.

  11. As for a central database of books, there is that contains 1.2 billion items located at libraries around the world.

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