Author Archives: Andrew Simone

“We have broken your business, now we want your machines.”

Russell Davies on what’s been percolating in digital culture regarding print media:

It’s not news that the internet has stimulated all sorts of creativity in the real world. From communities and marketplaces of crafters like folksy to new forms of personal manufacture like shapeways; technology is giving regular people access to tools and markets that once they couldn’t reach. And these aren’t necessarily new tools or technologies. It’s just that suddenly masses of people get to use them where once it was only large organisations that could. And the example I wanted to focus on was paper. (It was for The Guardian Media Group after all).

Tim O’Reilly has a great idea about the power of Watching The Alpha Geeks. And if you did that now, you’d notice that an interesting subset of alpha geeks are getting all excited about books and paper. You only have to look at BookCamp this weekend. And its attendant PaperCamp.

Later in the article, he mentions Dave Gray‘s book Marks and Meaning. Well, actually, Dave’s preferred nomenclature is “unbook” since the distribution model and editions are untraditional. Here is his description reprinted in full:

A traditional book is released in editions. When a work is revised or updated, a new edition is released. These revised or updated editions usually offer small, incremental changes, such as a new preface or introduction, a new chapter, or small changes to the content.

An unbook is more like software:

1. An unbook is never finished, but rather continually updated, based on feedback from users and their evolving needs.

2. An unbook is released in versions. As in open source software, version 1.0 of anunbook is a significant milestone, indicating that it is stable and reliable enough for use by the general public. The significance of a new release is indicated by the size of the gap: For example, the difference between 1.1 and 1.1.3 is minor, while the difference between 1.1 and 2.0 is major.

3. An unbook is supported by a community of users who share their experiences and best practices with each other, and help each other troubleshoot problems encountered in their practice areas. An unbook’s community is a very real part of the unbook’s development team.

An unbook is mindware: software for the mind.

I repeat: In an age of increasing digitization, objects become more valuable. And digitization not only increases value, but changes the way we think about objects and, consequently, how we distribute them. We’ll talk about that more tomorrow.

Books, Printing, and Self-Publishing

In an age of increasing digitization, objects become more valuable. And that value is the reason print media will not die, even if it does shrink. My prediction for print media, therefore, is two-fold: you will see small run, local editions of hardbound books and quick, cheap paperbacks. Couple this with our new attitudes on the democratization of content online and you are going to find quite a number of people self-publishing books. In fact, there are number of folks doing interesting things already:

Snarkmarket, earlier this year, published 200 paperbacks of New Liberal Arts which drew from a number of different thinkers online:

It’s 2009. A generation of digital natives is careening towards college. The economy is rebooting itself weekly. We have new responsibilities now—as employees, citizens, and friends—and we have new capabilities, too. The new liberal arts equip us for a world like this. But… what are they?

The best part about their self-publishing model is that after the 200 paperbacks were sold, the released the pdf for free.

Now, in light of that success, Robin Sloan has raised money through Kickstarter to write his latest novel:

The basic setup is: Imagine a Sherlock Holmes for the 21st century. All thereally good cases are on the internet. And Holmes is a woman, and Watson is an A.I., and San Francisco… oh, poor San Francisco…

Why are these ventures important? Well, with the cost of print small runs is coming down, you are going to see more interesting thinkers outside the traditional publishing circles writing and selling books online. And you will find self-publishing will be increasingly legitimized* because as Diana Kimball noted about Robin Sloan’s current project:

Kickstarter forces promotion, planning, and urgency to the beginning, right when affirmation is most precious. By creating a public contract, Kickstarter takes the vanity out of self-publishing. It’s not you publishing it, not really; it’s all the people who trusted in your work enough to bet on its success.

“The money” Robin confided, “is nothing, compared to just knowing.”

*This makes me wonder whether or not this would mean a de-legitimization of the more traditional model.

Social Publishing

You’ll hear more about social publishing from me in the future, but this is too fresh to hesitate showing you. Richard Eoin Nash, former publisher of Soft Skull press, has been trying to rally interest for a social publishing start-up called Cursor.

In this interview, he defines “social publishing”:

1) Define “social publishing” in terms the average book reader would understand; no buzzwords, no “organic gurgle of culture”. What is it, and what’s in it for the reader?

For the reader-as-reader, what “social” means is that there’s going to be more information about books, more scope to interact with the books (your own commenting & annotating and reading others’), more scope to interact with the author, more scope to interact with one another. (This latter item, to get semi-techy for a sec, is something that the broad horizontal book social networks—Goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari—do well, though, so we’re likely to focus on using their APIs rather than asking people to build their own bookshelves anew.)

“Social” is taking the book and making it much easier to have a conversation with the book and its writer, and have conversations around the book and its writer.

Again, more on this later.

There is something outside of the text

To make a very long story short, I was a book lugging Luddite until about three years ago when I discovered that the internet was more than cats fiending after cheeseburgers. And, since then, I have become increasingly fascinated with digital culture’s scrolls and more than a little concerned about my friend, the codex. Over the next few days, I plan on giving you a rough lay of land in the new/old publishing world according to my eye.

Caveat: I am not an expert in the field. I have never worked in it, but I have loved books in the past, known more than my fair share of authors and editors, and spent many of my waking hours thinking about the shift in reading habits and whether it does, indeed, demand comparisons with Gutenburg’s revolution.

We’ll start with a long, but interesting* essay by a former Editor-in-Chief of Random House, Daniel Menaker, on the contemporary publishing industry:

And here is the list of mostly non-arithmetical observations about mainstream publishing that these occasions have led me to compile. It is written primarily from the point of view of a medium- or senior-level acquisitions editor at a major trade house in New York City, the center of the publishing world. It applies principally to the publication of original hardcover books. Some of these observations have been observed before, but I hope to refresh them here. Some will be less familiar, I hope. These ideas are drawn from publishing as it stands — maybe I should say “stumbles” –right now; many of them may well not obtain when electronic-book-text digitization begins in earnest. That will happen in a financially and organizationally seismic way very quickly, I think — over the next decade –but I believe that this impending Gutenberg-level shift in reading culture, along with the economic disasters of the last two years, render the challenges of present-day hard-copy publishing all the more agonizing, immediate, and dramatic. At least in the abstract, and especially in this economic climate, most other professions pose some of the same problems for those who pursue them, no doubt. But the tectonically opposing demands on publishing — that it simultaneously make money and serve the tradition of literature — and its highly unpredictable outcomes and its prominence in the attention of the media have made it a kind of poster adult for capitalism and the arts in crisis.

For the most part, I have to say I’m glad to have left this all behind, except in the tranquility of recollection. But since publishing is essentially a casino, I do miss the thrill of gambling and the rare winning throw of the dice.

*I write ‘interesting’, of course, because I plan on posting boring articles later.