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BEA 2009: The future versus the present


If this were a competition between a vision for the future of publishing and the power of the present, the present won, no contest.

Starting at 2:30 p.m., two visionaries shared their ideas of a new kind of publishing company, a publishing company for the future. No more gatekeeping, said Richard Nash and Dedi Felman. Instead, they see an open community of writers and readers. A fascinating set of possible practices were put together in an intriguing way by two smart industry veterans. But at 2:55 p.m., as the presentation moved toward its midway, pre-Q&A point, the room steadily began to empty out.

In the ballroom next door, starting at 3 p.m., Tina Brown hosted a panel of the heads of the major publishing houses. The heavyweights: Brian Murray, president and chief executive of HarperCollins Publishers Worldwide; Carolyn Reidy, president and chief executive of Simon & Schuster Inc.; John Sargent, president and chief executive, Macmillan; and David Steinberger, president and chief executive, Perseus Books Group. The room was three times as big. And there wasn't a free seat in the house.

It is tempting at an enormous, industry-wide conference like BEA to try to read the tea leaves in the detritus of its stale meeting rooms. And if I were to give into temptation, I would say that those who picked up and left the talk about a vision for the future — to hear the powerful lament the troubles of the present — made the wrong choice.

The answers to publishing's biggest questions may not be here at all. But if they are, I wager they're more likely to be found with the risk-takers and the hopeful thinkers — at least, that's who I want to hear from.

— Carolyn Kellogg

Photo credit: Carolyn Kellogg

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The future is in ebooks and ebook readers. When the price of the readers comes down, as it will, it will open up worldwide sales potentials. Look at Amazon's Kindle, with some books under a dollar. Then there are very good free ebooks available on the 'free ebook' sites. With television programming quality going down and movie prices going up free and inexpensive quality ebooks should be a viable option.


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