Digital publishing: book as artifact; author as ringleader

Richard Shed's Digital book

Artwork/photo credit: Richard Shed

Seth Godin at his Domino Project blog provided a link to Craig Mod‘s essay titled “Post Artifact Books & Publishing: Digital’s effect on how we produce, distribute and consume content.” It’s a good discussion about how the publishing/authorship world  is being turned sideways and on its head. As for how the world of the author is changing, here’s Seth’s take:

In the first case, the yesterday case, the author has a job. She writes a book. In the second case, the tomorrow case, the author is the ringleader, cheerleader, ringmaster, organizer and jack of all trades of a process that might not ever end.

Craig’s essay reads well and looks good. He has done a nice job of designing it. (I’m referring to the online version. I don’t know if the design translates to the $2.99 Kindle version.) And in a David Foster Wallace-esque moment, Mr. Mod has thirty-two footnotes at the end of the essay. Rich resource there, my particular favorites being those pointers to online book experiments of one sort or another. Of particular note is the link to Frank Chimero’s blog. Frank is working on a book titled The Shape of Design and it’s quite interesting to see that his Kickstarter community has contributed $112,159.00 to keep him working on that project. That’s powerful stuff. (He’s also been very inventive about what you as a donor receive for the different levels of monetary participation.)

Then there’s this guy Peter Armstrong, co-founder of leanpub.com, an online publisher. (He appears in the comments section at the end of Craig’s essay.) Peter’s lean publishing motto: publish early, publish often. Peter’s idea is this:

Lean Publishing is the act of self-publishing a book while you are writing it, evolving the book with feedback from your readers and finishing a first draft before optionally using the traditional publishing workflow.

It’s worth reading the manifesto at Peter’s site, particularly the section called “The Lean Publishing How-To Guide for Non-fiction.” It’s all about writing and sharing what you’re writing with your community, and using feedback from those people as your revise your writing. In some ways there’s nothing new here, since people have always shared their writing with peers and colleagues and writing groups, but now you can reach out to more people more easily more quickly. (One question to consider is whether more/faster equals better, but that’s for another day.)

This all puts me in mind of David Weinberger, who, when he was writing Small Pieces Loosely Joined in 2001-2002 put chapters in progress out on the web and invited feedback. A fair number of people joined in the discussion at the time and David mentions a couple of them in his acknowledgments. All that resulted in a physical book, an artifact in Craig’s terms. One of his points is that now with books going digital you can continue to revise based on an ongoing discussion with your community. But how long will that last really? Any longer than it would with the “artifact”? The author will move on to new ideas, a new book. The community will move on as well. I’ll be curious to see if someone can track the discussions about books and their ideas. Will we something more substantive in the digital realm now available? Will the digital publishing realm result in a longer “shelf” life for ideas?

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2 responses to “Digital publishing: book as artifact; author as ringleader

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