Hugh McGuire

publishing, technology, media, philosophy, a bit of politics.



From Superbomba’s superb flickr stream.

Announcing BookCamp Toronto, June 6

Announcing BookCamp Toronto, Saturday, June 6, 2009 at the MaRS Center, 101 College Street.

BookCampToronto is a free unconference (definition at wikipedia) about:

The future of books, writing, publishing, and the book business in the digital age.

For more information, and to register, suggest sessions, please visit the wiki.

BookCamp Toronto is inspired by BookCamp London.

The Toronto version is being organized by Mitch, Mark B, Erin and Alexa. And me!

Interview at Allentrepreneur

Allentrepreneur has just posted an interview with moi:

Allentrepreneur: Welcome to Allentrepreneur Hugh and thanks for taking the time to talk. You’ve got quite a start-up resume to your name.,, and your latest one, The Book Oven, which has me particularly curious since I’m a book junkie. Could you give us an introduction?

Hugh: The book business is going through massive changes, there are cutbacks all over the place in publishing houses, bricks and mortar booksellers are in trouble, and there’s angst everywhere about how digital and ebooks will upset business models that have been entrenched for 100 years. But books are still a $50 billion business, and there are passionate readers and writers all over the world. The book business looks a lot like the music business did 10 years ago, with these huge companies knowing things are going to change, but having great trouble adjusting.

One really exciting thing is new technologies that make publishing a book cheap and easy: print-on-demand and ebooks. In some sense these technologies can take the publisher out of the picture – in the same way that musicians can now make and distribute their music online, writers now have the same abilities.

But making a book is an arduous and collaborative process. Book Oven will help bridge the gap between writing, and publishing a finished product. [more…]

RIP, John Updike

Better than Owning?

I have to think about this little bit more. Kevin Kelly has a compelling argument that access is better than ownership (because it comes with fewer responsibilities), for social goods such as movies, books, music. But one thing that strikes me is that while “consuming” might work in this model, the true test is what you can do with a good, and who gets to decide. In any case:

Ownership is not as important as it once was.

I use roads that I don’t own. I have immediate access to 99% of the roads and highways of the world (with a few exceptions) because they are a public commons. We are all granted this street access via our payment of local taxes. For almost any purpose I can think of, the roads of the world serve me as if I owned them. Even better than if I owned them since I am not in charge of maintaining them. The bulk of public infrastructure offers the same “better than owning” benefits.

The web is also a social common good. The web is not the same as public roads, which are “owned” by the public, but in terms of public access and use, the web is a type of community good. The good of the web serves me as if I owned it. I can summon it in full, anytime, with the snap of a finger. Libraries share some of these qualities. The content of the books are not public domain, but their displays (the books) grant public access to their knowledge and information, which is in some ways better than owning them.

Very likely, in the near future, I won’t “own” any music, or books, or movies. Instead I will have immediate access to all music, all books, all movies using an always-on service, via a subscription fee or tax. I won’t buy – as in make a decision to own — any individual music or books because I can simply request to see or hear them on demand from the stream of ALL. I may pay for them in bulk but I won’t own them. The request to enjoy a work is thus separated from the more complicated choice of whether I want to “own” it. I can consume a movie, music or book without having to decide or follow up on ownership. [more…]

Her Morning Elegance

From Oren Lavie:

Oren Lavie’s flash site (sigh).

And a live set on Morning Becomes Eclectic.

[via @mdash]

Canada’s New Media Corridor

From Michael Geist:

The federal government has announced plans to spend over $10 million to establish a “Corridor for Advancing Canadian Digital Media” from Stratford to Kitchener. Coming on the heels of the Nortel bankruptcy, this initiative reinforces the tech shift westward from Ottawa to Waterloo. While tech leadership once resided with Nortel, JDS, Corel, Newbridge, and Cognos, the shift to RIM, Open Text, etc. has a direct effect on the location of future tech iniatives in Canada.

Credit Default Swaps

When I worked at Prebon in 2000 (on financial/insurance products that would financing greenhouse gas reductions while hedging against the risk of greenhouse gas legislation), I remember trying to figure out the credit default swap market. At the time, it was a relatively new product, and it was where Prebon – a broker, not a trader – was making a killing. Generally in the financial business, new products are where all the profits are. Once your clients and competitors figure out what they’re buying, transparency comes into the market, efficiency, and prices/margins drop. But in the early days of a financial product, the margins are huge – because if you are offering something people want, and no one else is offering it, and no one else understands it, you can strip out enormous profits.

Anway, at the time the CDS market was pretty new and pretty hot. A credit default swap, nominally, is an insurance policy against the issuer of a financial product (say, a bond) defaulting. What it became was something else altogether, a massive commodity trading scheme where the underlying commodity (the CDS) had come completely uncoupled from the underlying assets. By the time things started collapsing last year, the CDS market was $30 trillion dollars. It’s a massive liability that no one’s really owned up to yet. NYTimes has a good article explaining things and asking when the next shoe will drop:

Any honest assessment must include the role that credit-default swaps have played in this mess: it’s the elephant in the room, the $30 trillion market that people do not want to talk about.

Credit-default swaps are insurancelike contracts that Wall Street created in the early 1990s. They allow bondholders to protect themselves against losses if a company or a debt issuer defaults….

Sellers of C.D.S.’s spent years raking in premiums while underestimating or simply ignoring the possibility of rising defaults. Regulators let the market grow unchecked.

In the end, far too much of this insurance was written at way too cheap a cost. Now, with Wall Street and the economy in tatters, the fear that already-hobbled financial companies may have to pay off huge amounts on C.D.S. arrangements hangs like a cloud over the markets.

C.D.S.’s have already figured prominently in taxpayer bailouts. The $150 billion rescue of the American International Group, for example, came about because of swaps the insurer had written on mortgage securities. And the $100 billion taxpayer backstop handed to Bank of America on Jan. 16 had a good bit to do with soured credit-default swaps that the bank inherited when it acquired Merrill Lynch. [more…] is Live and Fantastic, the National Film Board’s web site is now live, and open for viewers. Seven hundred documentaries, shorts, animations and general filmy goodness are available in their entirety on the site. I’ve been playing for a while now with the beta, but very happy this is out there in the wild now. I still have some niggles about the navigation and UI, but as long as they keep adding content, I will be a happy man.

The NFB used to make some of the most beautiful films in the world, and was a beacon of experimentation and integrity in the new art of the documentary film. Watch, for instance, this exquisite doc, by the master Gilles Groulx, Un Jeu Si Simple. You don’t have to care a whit about hockey, or speak French for that matter, to appreciate one of the most elegant movies you’ll ever see, a study in brilliant editing. If you are a hockey fan, this is something like uncovering a footage of Greek gods on Olympus.

[Good on ya, Matt]

Bookcamp: The Books Are All Right

[x-posted at Book Oven & Huffpo]

bookcamplogoAs the death watch continues for the publishing business and perhaps even the book itself, a group of writers, technologists, publishers, agents, designers, booksellers, and social architects convened in London for BookCamp, a one-day thinking session (bookish experimentation) about what the future of the written word might be.

The event was organized by Jeremy Ettinghausen, digital publisher at Penguin UK; James Bridle, of BookTwo, and Bookkake; and Russel Davies.

Thinking about books

If the amount of thought and enthusiasm generated that day — and evening — is any indication, I think we’re going to be OK. The book is alive and well, even if defining “book” is becoming more complicated; and the publishing business, bracing itself for the biggest shake-up since the paperback, will come out the other end, transformed certainly, but alive nonetheless. That’s my projection anyway.

An open slate

If you’ve never been to a “camp” or “unconference,” you should find the next one near you, show up and dive in. These un/conferences vary from place to place and event to event, but tend to share a few characteristics: they are free, they are open, and the sessions are not formally presented by the organizers, but rather decided by participants. Everyone is supposed to contribute. The result is that you get a much wider mix of people and perspectives than at industry conferences.

BookCamp London started with a blank grid: 6 timeslots and 5 spaces (or 5 spaces, 6 timeslots?), with participants asked to fill in the grid, adding sessions they’d like to discuss. (For some reason I didn’t write anything in. First time I’ve ducked that responsibility at a camp.)

The sessions

ebook gadgetsSessions included (paraphrasing titles): Talking to Terrified Writers about the Web, the Book as Social Object/What Happens When Books Are Free?, EBook Gadgets, Is the Web Making Writing More Oral?, Social Networks and the Book, Encouraging Kids to Read. And more.

Fellow-BookOvener Suw Charman-Anderson lead a session about the Book as Social Object; or, What happens when all books are free? The group struggled with this difficult question: what happens if writers can no longer make their money from just selling books? The answer wasn’t so clear, but several things are certain: ebooks are coming; DRM won’t stop infinite reproduction on the web; no one likes DRM; and no one really knows how the business is going to work in a decade. But music, for all the worries about the industry at the corporate level, is thriving. How will writing evolve?

book as social objectThe next session I attended was Bookkake: How to Start a Publishing Company in Your Bedroom. James Bridle,Bookkake founder & BookTwo writer, has published new editions of five public domain titles, using ebooks, print-on-demand, and covers designed from photos on Flickr. An inspiring view of indie publishing’s future.

Michael Bhaskar of Pan Macmillan hosted a session on the web and the increasing orality of text, how text is taking on characteristics that we once associated with oral communications: quick feedback, ephemeral, linear, disposable ; Mark Johnson and Kate Hyde of HarperCollins (and Authonomy and BookArmy) lead a discussion of social networks and the book, that the successes and challenges they’ve had with their initiatives.

talking about networks

Speaking of books ….

In addition to enjoying talking with these smart people, I had great conversations with too many more to list, but some particularly good ones with Peter Collinridge of Apt Studio, Anthony Topping, of lit agents Greene & Heaton, Lucy Crichton, Alex Ingram, digital buyer at UK bookseller Waterstones, Naomi Alderman, and Adrian Hon. It was also nice to see some familiar faces, Aaron Straup Cope of Flickr, and Matt Biddulph of Dopplr, as well as Cory Doctorow, who I’ve crossed paths with numerous times online, but never met in person.

It was a great event, and I am very happy I decided to make the trip to the UK. Well worth it, and a real encouragement that what we’re up to at the Book Oven, behind the curtain, is on the right track. My only complaint was that it lasted one day, and not a week.

Can you see the future?

While there are nerves about the future of the book business, the overwhelming sensation I had leaving bookcamp was optimism. What else could be the result of spending a full day with so many bright people, excited about books, and actively shaping their future?

For some other thoughts on bookcamp (I’ll try to keep this up to date, as I see links) see:

[Photos by: Matt Biddulph, Annie Mole, and Russell Davies]