BookCamp Toronto report

by Liza Daly

There were a lot of surprising comments at Bookcamp Toronto, not always in a good way, but the one that’s sticking with me most came in a conversation I had after introducing myself as a software engineer who works in publishing: “Wow, what a terrible job.”

Are you kidding? I think I have the best job in the world.

There is so much interesting work to be done. For me it’s like time-traveling back to the start of the commercial web in 1996, but armed with all the tools and learning of the last 13 years. Frankly I can’t believe how few other developers like me there are out there, given that geeks are typically such — pardon the pun — bookworms.

So by the end of the day at BookCamp I felt a little worn down by the amount of fear and negativity that arose in some of the sessions. Particularly dispiriting is that some of the most vocal dissenters were small presses and independent authors, the groups that are most likely to benefit from these transformations in digital publishing.

I’m glad that BookCamp brought so many different people together, but I wish more of them looked to technology as means to solve problems, not a scourge to be stamped out. Don’t scowl and insist, “Ebooks have to cost $20 because that’s what our production costs are.” Just ask us: “How can the internet help us to make $5 ebooks?” Technologists want to help.

I wanted to hear more from people like the author who, listening to a discussion about networked, linked, internet-aware books, asked thoughtfully, “Would I know that my book would be distributed this way?” I thought she was going to complain about loss of control, or sniff that this was an affront to her artistry, as many other authors had during the day.

Instead she said, “Because if I knew that, I would write a different kind of book.”