Spring came late to Berlin this year, as elsewhere in Europe. But with the Spargel festival just starting, the trees in bud on Unter den Linden, the German courts ruling that you cannot re-sell an ebook and the German Government’s technical advisors indicating that government-funded research must be Open Access, it was clearly time to be there for the 10th annual Publishers’ Forum. Developed by Helmut von Berg and his colleagues at Klopotek, this has now clearly emerged as one of the leading places in Europe to talk about the future of what we are increasingly calling “networked publishing”. The meeting has moved from the Brandenburg Gate and the Pariserplatz back to the regenerating West Berlin of the Kurfurstendamm, but the urge to get to the roots of progressive development in what we once called the book business has not diminished.

By design and accident (loss of a keynoter) I played to more halls in this meeting than in any of the previous five that I have attended. Leave that to one side: my slideset is available under downloads on this site and on the conference site at www.publishersforum.de you will find slides, summaries, images, videos and references (including a very interesting tweetstream at #publishersforum) as these meetings get increasingly blanket-documented with linked description, comment and commentary. Data, in fact. An audience of 350 people at work with speakers, organizers, and media to discuss and share. Collaboration. And that was the theme of the meeting – Collaboration in the Age of Data adds up to Networked Publishing.

And from these sessions it is now clear where we are headed This Spring is definitive in ways that other Springs have not quite been. In every previous year you could be sure, here in thoughtful, conservative Germany, that someone would say that we wee jumping the gun, that format would survive fragmentation, that the “book would never die”. No such voices this week. In an audience that loves books and lives by them, I felt an absolute certainty that while “book as comforting metaphor” would survive, my friends and colleagues in the body of the hall knew that they had entered the Age of Data. We described network publishing as allusive, particulate, and above all, linked. We talked about workflow: our customer’s workflow as well as our own. This was the age of Metadata as well as the Age of Data. Speaker after speaker spoke of the potential to release new value from content as data, and the need for systems and services to support that monetization potential.

And the feedback loop was everywhere in evidence. The user and the networked power of users has completely shifted the balance from the editorial selectivity of gatekeeper producers to the individualized requirements of users. We once Pushed where now the increasingly Pull. But loyalty was not sacrificed on the way: if you provide solutions that fit user needs exactly then you can experience what Jan Reicert of Mendeley described in a private session as “amazing user love”. On the main agenda, Brian O’Leary spoke, with his usual lucid intelligence, on the disaggregation of supply, and amongst publishers Dan Pollock (formerly Nature, now Jordans) effectively defined the network publishing challenge, (replete like the auto industry with lack of standards) while Fionnuala Duggan of Coursesmart tracked the way in which the textbook in digital form becomes a change agent in conservative teaching societies while enabling the development of new learning tools. Kim Sienkiewicz of IIl demonstrated the semantic web at work in educational metadata. And Christian Dirschl of Wolters Kluwer Germany updated us on the continued development of the Jurion project, a landmark in semantic web publishing for lawyers.

Alongside the publishers stood the Enablers. Publishing seldom realises the value that it gets from its suppliers. Indeed, one of my current mantras is that the importance of software in the industry is now so great that few content players are not also software developers, and that the relationships they enter into with third parties are often no longer supplier agreements, but really partnership and often strategic alliance agreements, and need to be recognized as such. They not only add value, but they materially affect the valuation of the content players themselves. It is no accident that it was Uli von Klopotek who opened this event for his company, and it was gratifying to see on the platform a range of services that are symptomatic of the re-birth described here. Hugh McGuire from Pressbooks in Canada exemplifies that enablement, as does Martin Kaltenbock of Austria’s Semantic Web Company. Jack Freivald of Information Builders, Adam DuVander of Progammable Web, and Anna Lewis and Oliver Brooks of ValoBox were each able to demonstrate further value additionality through an elaboration of networked publishing. The result was a rich gulasch suppe of networked expedients ( far more nutritional than the prevalent currywurst of this city!).

The conference agenda spoke of momentum. Laura Dawson (Bowker), a prescient commentator, noted how far we had gone in her Open Book presentation. And if we still lack standards, we have people like BISG and Editeur on this agenda struggling towards them. One of the most attractive features of the old book business was its anarchic and “cottage industry” flavour. I think it will retain many anarchic and small business qualities in the network, but it will be increasing bounded by standards of networked communication.

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