Good article on the future of writing and publishing with Tim O’ Reilly, Stephen Abram, Douglas Rushkoff, and Frank Daniels:

“It’s a snowy February Monday in midtown Manhattan. Publishing magnate and tech guru Tim O’Reilly’s ‘Tools of Change’ conference has just opened at a Marriott off Broadway. The timing is fortunate; publishers HarperCollins and Random House have just announced that they will be offering more book content online and au gratis. The affable O’Reilly-who has been urging publishers to go digital since the early eighties-refuses to gloat (much). ‘They weren’t even trying to keep electronic copies [of manuscripts],’ recalls O’Reilly. ‘You look at these announcements today, they seem too little too late,… but it’s allowing them to start innovating, to become part of the technology process.’ ‘Twenty years ago, people wouldn’t have listened,’ says Sara Domville, president of F+W Publications book division. ‘They’ll listen now.’

As the publisher of an extremely popular series of computer manuals, O’Reilly is a bright star in a field of drab. Dubbed the ‘guru of the participation age’ by Steven Levy in a 2005 Wired profile and a ‘graying hippie’ with a ‘hostility toward traditional media’ by author Andrew Keen, O’Reilly makes millions of dollars promoting open source at his conferences and selling do-it-yourself know-how to anyone who browses the computer aisle at Barnes and Noble. His message to the world’s publishing elite exudes a Wizard of Oz simplicity: Give more product away on your Web site, thereby attracting more people to sell on something pricier than a book- like a bunch of books or a conference ticket. The approach works for him at least. Some 900 publishing execs from Simon and Schuster, Norton, etc., have paid $1,100 apiece (on average) to learn how to give content away.

‘I think I’m optimistic,’ said Sonia Nash of Random House, echoing the uncertainty of the attendees, editors, and publishers from around the world eager to find some reason to feel good about the future of what they sell.”

(via The Futurist)