Publishing and the Digital Landscape

We’ve talked much about what’s hap­pen­ing in pub­lish­ing, paper, and digit­al cul­ture, but let’s talk about what should hap­pen.

“Book Oven is cloud-pub­lish­ing: we are an online tool­set that enables indi­vidu­als and groups to make, improve, pub­lish, and sell print books and ebooks. Book Oven is designed for inde­pend­ent writers and small presses.”

Regard­less of what you think about Book Oven’s imple­ment­a­tion, they have the right idea. It is a com­munity-centered net­work that provides a plat­form for writers to preen their work and eas­ily export it into formats for digit­al and print-on-demand pub­lish­ing. This is a fant­ast­ic tool, but does not provide any pipeline into tra­di­tion­al pub­lish­ing circles. Enter Richard Eoin Nash’s start-up, Curs­or:

The busi­ness will focus on devel­op­ing the value of the read­ing and writ­ing eco­sys­tem, includ­ing the growth of mar­kets for estab­lished authors, as well as enga­ging read­ers and sup­port­ing emer­ging writers. Each com­munity will have a pub­lish­ing imprint, which will make money from author­s’ books, sold as digit­al down­loads, con­ven­tion­al print and lim­ited artis­an­al editions—and will offer authors all the bene­fits of a digit­al plat­form: faster time to mar­ket, faster account­ing cycles, faster pay­ments to authors. But the greatest oppor­tun­ity is in the com­munity itself. Each will have tiers of mem­ber­ship, includ­ing paid mem­ber­ships that will offer exclus­ive access to tools and ser­vices, such as rich text edit­ors for mem­bers to upload their own writ­ing, peer-to-peer writ­ing groups, recom­mend­a­tion engines, access to estab­lished authors online and in per­son, and edit­or­i­al or mar­ket­ing assist­ance. Mem­bers can get both peer-based feed­back and pro­fes­sion­al feed­back.

Now we are get­ting some­where. Richard could speak to this bet­ter, since the plat­form doesn’t exist yet, but from what I can glean this looks more like a tra­di­tion­al pub­lish­ing scheme that is tak­ing advant­age social media. Do you catch the dif­fer­ence? Both ser­vices are try­ing to fig­ure out how to make a book hap­pen, but Book Oven seems to be ask­ing these ques­tion from a writer’s stand­point: can we cre­ate a ser­vice that helps writers, edit­ors, and read­ers inter­act? Richard, how­ever, is ask­ing the ques­tion from a pub­lish­ing stand­point: how can we help you writers pro­duce a good, viable product that people will buy? At least, that’s how I see it.

We should not, how­ever, neg­lect what Dave Gray is doing with unbooks, the book as soft­ware. If we view a book as some­thing always in pro­cess with a com­munity centered dis­cus­sion, then this would change how we would define the web plat­form. For instance:

  • The writer of the book ought to be able to track exactly who bought the book, so he can bring them into the dis­cus­sion (either pub­licly or privately). This also gives the author great­er power over his brand.
  • If we take the soft­ware meta­phor ser­i­ously, then why can’t some­body pur­chase the book at any stage of devel­op­ment? Why not just sec­tions of a book? The power and use­ful­ness that could bring for the sale of tech­nic­al manu­als, for example, would be incred­ible.
  • And–to extend the meta­phor to hardware–why not plug and play books? I cre­ate my own selec­tion of short stor­ies from a cata­log and make my own (through print-on-demand) col­lec­tion of stor­ies, or I am a col­lege pro­fess­or who wants to select spe­cif­ic chapters from spe­cif­ic books to cre­ate my own text­book. The pos­sib­il­it­ies are lim­it­less

The list could go on.

The one group, how­ever, that seems to have been neg­lected are book design­ers.* My ques­tion, as spin off from my little man­tra, “In an age of increas­ing digit­iz­a­tion, objects become more valu­able”, is how can we make a com­munity centered plat­form that makes gor­geous books, elec­tron­ic or hard copy, as a focus? What will it take to make a book ver­sion of Ponoko and is that a viable busi­ness mod­el?

*Nash actu­ally alludes to it in the quote above, “digit­al down­loads, con­ven­tion­al print and lim­ited artis­an­al edi­tions”, but I sus­pect it is not his focus.