Saturday, August 18, 2012

How will we be writing books?

The DinnerI went down to the bookstore yesterday to look for a copy of The Dinner, by Dutch author Herman Koch.  Recently recommended by the Economist, who called it “Irredeemably Dutch”, I wanted both the English and Nederlands versions for practice.

Why go to a bookstore: why buy two paper versions?  I can go from one to the other, checking my comprehension, making annotations, working anywhere without power or being online.  I may be retro, but thee isn’t a content consumption device (yet) that replaces the utility and experience of a book.

I have gravitated away from paper newspapers, though: I like my online subscription to the FT and read all the Dutch dailies electronically.  I think it’s because the articles are short and I enjoy chaining through related links.  The only place I enjoy a paper newspaper is on the train.  Magazines are still somewhere between: long-form analyses (the Economist) or narratives (the Atlantic or New Yorker) just feel both longer and harder to read without a paper copy..

So the way I consume print media is changing (and I rue what it is doing to newsrooms and bookstores). But I think a similar change, less noticed, is going on in the way print media is produced.

Imagine you wanted to write an account of the Amsterdam Fashion Week, in the style of Seven Days in the Art World, viewing the ecology of fashion merchandising from various participant perspectives.

The Pitch may be to the participants directly, rather than to an agent.  Their cooperation enables the work to be completed; online research and remote interviews fill in the necessary background.

The Funding would come from crowdsourcing rather than a publisher.  What will a week of travel and research cost: 5-10K$?  Well within the reach of Kickstarter and others.  Promise small investors copies of the finished work, souvenirs from Fashion Week, tickets to the next Fashion Week for big donors.

The Work would be a tightly scripted project, note and photography, maybe a small documentary, produced more like a movie.  A tight plan, a good local staff, a week of intense work, a sack-full of material to go home with and start writing.

The Writing is done chapter by chapter, posted for both subjects and investors to read, comment on, and correct as the book develops.  While there is an outline and timeline to structure the process, the execution is fluid, taking advantage of opportunities from the network of collaborators and ideas from critics.

The Publication is done electronically, using  variations on Kindle Singles that makers of electronic readers are using to publish new works for their users.

The Book Tour is done using social networks, tracking hits, purchases, reviews, and comments real-time, much as journalists do with their articles today.  It’s supported by YouTube video and real-time interviews.

It feels like an alternative publication ecosystem I rapidly taking shape which will change the way books get written, making them much more author driven, investor collaborative, and reader enhanced.

AMS F W‘Different’, but I’m not convinced (yet)  ‘better’.  I’ll miss going to the bookstores, miss notating paper copy, miss reviews like the Economist’s and the anticipation of a good story.

The country that, some claim, produces the tallest, blandest men in Europe—a nation of tolerant, easy-going liberals who appear to have solved all their major social problems—turns out to be something quite different. The Netherlands’ political correctness is, in Mr Koch’s telling, a smokescreen for all manner of inchoate prejudices and dislikes…

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