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.