Clips from Brian O’Leary’s speech: “containers limit how we think”

I was perusing my neglected RSS feed and came across Kassia Krozser’s fabulous recap of TOC, which I didn’t get to attend this year.

Through her links, I found the text of Brian O’Leary’s “‘Context first, revisited‘” keynote address.

It’s thought-provoking, and I recommend you read the whole thing. But if you can’t, here are a selection of my favorite quotes from the speech:

….we [book publishers] are no longer selling content, or at least not content alone. We compete on context…

Digital has made convergence inevitable. Marketers have become publishers; publishers are marketing arms; new entrants are a bit of both. Customers have become alternately competitors, partners and suppliers.

The challenge is not just being digital; it’s being demonstrably relevant to the audiences who now turn first to digital to find content.

When content scarcity was the norm, we could live with a minimum of context. In a limited market, our editors became skilled in making decisions about what would be published. Now, in an era of abundance, editors have inherited a new and fundamentally different role: figuring out how “what is published” will be discovered….

To manage abundance, we can (and do) use blunt instruments, like verticals, or somewhat more elegant tools, like search engines.
But when it comes to discovery, access and utility, nothing substitutes for authorial and editorial judgment….

Anyone want to discuss how convergence in the daily publishing workflow (not just in the marketplace) affects the editorial role? Editors already do a little marketing. As project managers we create titles and copy; we inform and approve cover art. As author liaisons, we help authors’ marketing efforts blend with company marketing efforts. Will there, necessarily, be more convergence, with other departments? (Choosing new, more specific BISAC codes for each book? Editing pages and chapters not just for story, but so they are easily chunked or searchable?)

Or, can anyone share details of what it means to use editorial judgment to improve discovery, access and utility? (I’m thinking this is about meta-data and understanding the way a user interacts with material when using a digital product like an ebook, but I’m not sure.)

As always, Brian brings up lots of interesting concepts for discussion!

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2 Responses to “Clips from Brian O’Leary’s speech: “containers limit how we think””


  1. 1 Brian O'Leary April 20, 2011 at 8:17 am

    I’m sorry I missed your post when it first went up. I do think that continued convergence is likely. The kinds of things that editors do now will only grow in importance as search replaces traditional marketing as a primary method of discovering content.

    You’re right about the use of metadata as a vehicle to improve discovery, access and utility, but I generally extend the definition to include the background and unpublished content that may be useful to certain audiences.

    • 2 Stacy Boyd April 20, 2011 at 9:00 am

      I agree with you that there will be continued convergence. It’s just hard to see what it will look like, from where we are right now.

      I’m still learning about basic metadata, so thinking about an extended definition is intriguing. Would unpublished content be the author bio, sales data, related subject matter,etc.? Or is it deleted scenes and works in progress?

      The idea of metadata background stumps me. If you have a chance to clarify what that is, please do!


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I work as an editor at Harlequin, but the posts on this site are all mine and don’t represent my employer's positions, strategies or opinions.
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