Last nite was the NextNow event on the future of the book/publishing/? Jay Cross really helped by adding significant data around and input to the discussion; a very public thanks. He’s also blogged it, with video. We had a very diverse audience of around 30 or so; many were authors, there were CEOs & entrepeneurs, artists and musicians, noted scientists, and more. Many shared one or more of my own publishing experiences, including as author, board member of a not-for-profit that publishes, editorial board member of a journal, and, of course, as a blogger.
After introductions, which already raised many issues, Jay walked us through the history of the book (Guttenberg was an entrepreneur, the first totable book was sized to fit in saddle bags), and we talked about the pros and cons of books. We discussed our varied experiences with publishers, and there were quite a few unhappy ones. Then we got into the issues.
As I mentioned earlier, Jay and I had come up with a few, including editorial ‘voice’ (who’s vetting the information), interactivity, volatility, ownership, and money. Interestingly, as the discussion continued, others emerged. Michael Carter raised an interesting point, that we were conversing about books and publishers, and they’re not the same things, and that it was really about matching ignorance with knowledge. He also mentioned that the current chapter and book size is arbitrary, which is something I’ve seen in textbooks. Christine Walker mentioned how our cognition might change without the book experience. There was considerable optimism about setting information free, which I didn’t squelch with my concern about the need for ‘filters’.
We covered the ‘collected papers’ model, where proactive instructors or good editors choose appropriate contributions to a definitive compilation (with my note that most instructors just want to choose a text, and there are compilations that are just vanity projects without a representative or definitive sampling for the topic). We also talked about marketplaces, and Laleh Shahidi mentioned a learning object model of content, of which there’ve been several experiments (including Propagate, a system that Peter Higgs launched way back around 1998!). One of the ideas would be to have several authors to choose from, but then you’d need ‘templates’ for topics, with agreed structure. One of the current situations is that authors present totally different takes on subjects.
At the end, it appeared that publishing is about 4 things:
- development: the right choice of message and author for the knowledge gap
- production: the right choice of presentation of the information
- marketing: the right marketing of availability to need
- money: the business model that surrounds the first three
The interesting thing is that with the internet (and on-demand printing), the production costs have essentially hit zero. There’s clearly a role for editorial choice, but at some point everyone can publish, and we need ways to find what we want, which is really about the marketing, which was clearly where many authors (including yours truly) felt that they were let down. We heard of an interesting experiment in viral marketing, with Amy Jussell mentioning a blog-produced book. The question is whether such an effort is replicable. Of course, there’s still the cachet that comes with having a publisher choosing. The flip-side is tha traditional publishers still take months from final manuscript to final print.
So, no answers, but lots of interesting issues.