Concepts are big issues in publishing. Normally, whenever there is change, people start talking in concepts and soon arrive at specific issues. In publishing, discussions seem to get stuck in the concepts. Take for instance digital disruption, open access, or the buzz around start-ups. You may say, these are just generalisations to get conversations going. After years of conversations, though, this has become a false argument. Time is ripe to move from generalising concepts to specific issues. Especially at occasions of public speaking.
Concepts as Starters
Concepts are good starters. They are buzzwords that alarm people. Yet, talking about digital disruption at a book fair panel is of not much use to most of the professionals who have to deal with change in day to day live. The same goes for open access. Is it monographs or journals? Issues of impact or distribution, financially or for the scientific ecosystem? And are we actually talking about the humanities, physics or medical sciences? And when you hear people referring to start-ups as the hot shit, is the hotness in the non-hierarchical organisation, agile pivoting, or the bad ass risk-taking?
At book fairs, publishing conferences, and even often enough in the established media, concepts replace specific issues. It’s as if the content creators or panel hosts don’t want to get too specific as it would then become a niche issue. Niche issues don’t reach enough people, one could argue. That’s why niche issues are being discussed at booths and over coffee tables. Yet, if that’s the case, what’s the value of having the panels and conferences alongside fairs in the first place?
Networking can hardly be enough for all the hassle. And even then, in case those talks are only indicators that shall make audiences aware that there is someone on stage knowing about a topic so that you can later talk to her more specifically, why is there no bar camp or more flexible panel solution at fairs and conferences? If the content is getting niche – adjust the format to niche as well. Otherwise, you just create placeholders (which often enough function as advertisements, unfortunately).
This Is Water. Call It Water.
What’s a solution then? Hosts should be more specific in their topics and more creative in their choice of panellists. And moreover, they must take the effort of inviting a proper audience themselves. A discussion shouldn’t be reserved to those on stage.
Firstly, more specific means that topics are boiled down to specific areas or questions. Open access is huge, there is a myriad of questions – define where you’ll be heading. Just like in a paper where you can’t just scratch the surface and sell it as deep thinking, panellists should be required to dig deeper. How will we ever find solutions when we only discuss the larger concepts?
Secondly, more creative choice of panellists means getting beyond the existing network. There are way too many panels that were created by flipping through LinkedIn, chasing those who’re somehow related to the subject. Get more specific! Reach out those who act or conduct research on the subject. There are loads of experts with answers to the questions at hand – they just never appear at the relevant conference because they are not yet in the industry network.
Thirdly, do some marketing. If you have a panel on a fair, don’t rely on the people who stroll along. If you have a slot at a conference, make sure the relevant people sit in the first row. (And in case the relevant people are not attending the conference at all, ask yourself why this subject is part of the conference.) Marketing can reach from just sending out some mails to publishing an article on the subject. Not only does the latter stimulate interest in the topic, it also helps you pinpointing the black holes in your concept. Cause writing – by its nature – will make you get specific.