Tag Archive for conferences

Books, NOW!

Via Filed By and my good friend José Afonso Furtado’s Twitter Feed comes this fascinating Publishers Weekly story about Perseus Book Group and its BIG EXPERIMENT at BookExpo America 2009.  The crux of the matter is this: Perseus plans on publishing a 144-page book consisting of “sequels” to some of literature’s great opening lines — all within the span of 48 hours.

The title of the work — Book: The Sequel — clearly isn’t just about the content.  It’s as much if not more about the publishing industry and how it operates (or could operate), which is to say nothing of the existential crisis its main product — the book — finds itself in today.  What we have in Book: The Sequel is more than just print-on-demand, it’s essentially books, now!

I’m usually fairly circumspect of experiments like these.  Rarely are they particularly well thought through, and often they put far too much faith in simple, technological solutions or outcomes.  Not here.  Perseus proposes a remarkably holistic picture of what book publishing could be in the not-so-distant future — or later this week, if you want to get all “the future is now” about it.

First, the substance: crowdsourced content.  There already have been experiments in collaborative book writing, so in a sense what Perseus is doing is not altogether new.  Those who wish to contribute to the volume can log on to www.bookthesequel.com, where they can can pitch their own opening line sequels.  On the other hand, the Press’ experiment in crowdsourcing demonstrates one possible future function publishers may choose to take on.  That is, they may opt to become aggregators of decentralized information, as opposed to their simply remaining the gatekeepers of already centalized or unified information.  Perseus also plans on focus-grouping the cover designs using similar means, which is in keeping with my previous post on the marketing power of a site like Scribd.

Next, the product, which is multiple.  Perseus plans on releasing digital, audio, and online versions of Book: The Sequel, as well as a tangible, print-on-paper volume.  This is impressive.  Too often experiments in flash publishing result in only one of these — usually the e-edition and nothing more.  The looming test of the book industry’s mettle will be in how well it works — quickly and elegantly — across both analog and digital platforms.

Finally, the opportunities for post-publication interactivity.  Thus far publishing has done a fairly good job in recognizing the growing importance of author-audience interaction.  It has built ample infrastructure to support this.  But what the industry hasn’t caught on to well enough yet is the importance of decentralizing its social networks.  Online book marketing has been preoccupied with bringing audiences back again and again to the publishers’ or the authors’ websites.  This is understandable.  But we live in a time when conversations about culture happen all over the place, and increasingly on Facebook and Twitter.  It’s a testament to Perseus’ vision that it’s recognized how it need not try to control or consolidate the conversation about its book for that conversation to occur.

My only misgiving — and it is a significant one — about Book: The Sequel is that there appears to be no structure in place to compensate those who’ve donated their labor to create the book’s content.  This will have to change, even if it ultimately results in micro-payments to the authors (which, as Chris Anderson has shown, can add up in the long run).  Any book publishing business model that relies on crowdsourced content but that does not compensate the crowd for its initiative, wisdom, and goodwill surely will be unsustainable.

That said, Perseus plans on donating the profits of its grand experiment to the National Book Foundation. Who could have any truck with that?

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Library 2.0…the Report

Late last week, I promised to report on the “Library 2.0″ Symposium at Yale Law School, in which I participated on April 4th.  I arrived at New Haven with a lovely Keynote presentation to accompany my essay on “Kindle and the Labor of Reading,” only to discover that my laptop had died!  Well, thank goodness for backup — which is to say nothing of the goodwill of Ted Byfield, my session moderator, who just happens to be a Mac/Keynote user.  Whew.  In any event, I expected to issue my Symposium wrap-up this past Monday or Tuesday, but the death of my laptop resulted in my having to push back the schedule a bit.  Thanks for your patience.

All that’s just preamble, I suppose, to my saying that it was a fantastic event through and through.  It brought together an extraordinary group consisting of librarians and library administrators, from places ranging from elite private universities to small rural communities; high-powered practicing attorneys (one who even litigated the Google book scanning case–representing the publishers) and equally high-powered law professors; digital library innovators; and a few humanities professors, like me.  Kudos to the planning committee for making a concerted effort to forestall what so often happens at symposia like these: group think (or the compulsion to engage in it).

What was fascinating to me was to hear about how librarians are navigating a shift in their profession, from their maintaining chiefly archival responsibilities to their increasingly becoming information managers.  (Laura DeNardis, the Executive Director of the Information Society Project at Yale Law School, opened the event with a hilarious video documenting representations of librarians in the popular media, which only threw into relief the degree to which the library profession has so profoundly changed.)   It was also intriguing to hear about the types of new archival problems that get posed within digital contexts, which raise all sorts of questions about privacy, propriety, and responsibility.  My co-panelist Michael Zimmer, for example, discussed the ethics of libraries’ retaining patron borrowing, web browsing, and search information in an age in which “the library” is becoming as much a physical structure as a digital, database-driven “back-end.”

Another theme that reared its head again and again was academic publishing — especially the legal, economic, and scholarly pitfalls that result from the over-concentration of the scholarly publishing industry.  I’ve written on the subject before – from the vantage point of cultural studies — and so I was fascinated to learn what the world of scholarly journal publishing looked like from a library perspective.  Long story short, it doesn’t look good, save for the important Open Access initiatives that have appeared in recent years, which themselves raise all sorts of conundrums about opting out and re-publication.  My favorite moment?  When one conference participant showed a PowerPoint slide depicting concentration in the journal publishing industry, with a gargantuan sphereoid “Elsevier” appearing in red in the middle, as though it were gobbling up all the other companies around it.  She said that she’d shown the slide before, and that it had come to be known colloquially as the “death star” slide.  How apt.

Let’s just hope that the library — a tremendous public resource — doesn’t end up getting consumed by Elsevier or some other evil empire.

P.S. “Library 2.0″ was blogged and Twittered, essentially in real-time, so follow the preceding links if you’d like a more “granular” view of the event.

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Library 2.0

Just a quick note to say how excited I am to be heading out today to the Library 2.0 Symposium, hosted by Yale Law School.  The organizers have graciously invited me to present a version of my work-in-progress on the Amazon Kindle e-reader, which is an outgrowth of The Late Age of Print. The piece is called “Kindle: The Labor of Reading in an Age of Ubiquitous Bookselling,” and the latest draft is hosted here on my wiki site: http://striphas.wikidot.com/kindle-the-labor-of-reading-worksite-v2-0.  Comments are of course welcome and encouraged.

I plan on posting some sort  of report about the Symposium early next week, so be sure to check back then.

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