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At SXSWi: Dinosaurs vs. digital

March 15, 2010 |  1:43 pm


Peter Miller, a publishing professional and used bookstore owner, is blogging for Jacket Copy from the SXSW Interactive festival in Austin, Texas.

On Sunday, talk of publishing was largely put aside as festival-goers, groggy from the lost hour of sleep, bore witness to self-congratulatory Media 2.0 discussions. The kind where representatives from Facebook or Gawker or CNN.com suggest that quality will always win out online and that Web communities are their own best policers. A New York Times columnist seated near me buried his chin into his chest as the debonair Pete Cashmore of Mashable cooed into the microphone: "If you are on the scene, you are a journalist."

I was disappointed when the promising-sounding panel "Blah Blah Blah: Why Words Won't Work" turned out not to be an indictment of print but a thinly veiled inspirational speech on visual problem-solving (and a subtle plug for the speaker's associated business book). But I began to understand what he meant about  society's over-verbalization. Dizzy from the SXSWi chatter about "ideation," "metrics," Google juice" and "content," I sought out more familiar pastures.

Surely the trade show would harbor publishers; we do relish a good exhibition room. But the only ones in evidence were tiny technical presses wedged between film bureaus and app developers. E-reader manufacturers and media conglomerates were noticeably absent. C-SPAN had its own booth, but not Mac or Kindle. More people were buzzing about Snooki than the pre-sales of the iPad.

I asked Ed Nawotka, an Austin resident and editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives, about the role books can play at an interactive conference. "It's a two-way street," he said. "SXSWi is finally acknowledging that the book business is an important sector." But publishers, he explained, have to go further and "talk the talk,"  because "if you don't, you are going to cede the business to the tech people.... Just give a damn. Don't not give a damn."

Will Monday's "Future of Publishing" panel deliver? Or will it just be more posturing? The toy dinosaur I picked up at the panel "Dinosaur to Digital: A Museum Convergence Success Story" will be on hand to find out.

-- Peter Miller in Austin

Photo credit: Peter Miller