Publishing’s Future, in Parts

November 28th, 2011 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

sIn the walk-it-like-you-write-it mode, contributors to Book: A Futurist’s Manifesto break conventions. They conceptually and practically cover the current nascent forms of publishing.

Book Review Note: This is another in my ongoing series of technical book reviews.

Most obvious include that this work is in process. The intro material and part one of three is available now. Buy it and you get the upgrades as they are ready. The electronic versions are much cheaper. You can also stumble around on the authors’ site to read it for free online, but not take it away.

This work lives its content and requires flexible commitment by the reader. Nothing could be more reasonable for authors Huge McGuire (writer/technologist) and Brian O’Leary (publisher/futurist), and their set of essayists. They come from various angles on how books will come to be conceived, designed, written, laid out, distributed, updated and more.

This first cut is The Setup: Approaches to the Digital Present. It’s 91 pages at the moment. Coming up are in the next months will be The Outlook: What Is Next for the Book?, and The Things We Can Do with Books: Projects from the Bleeding Edge.

Part one tries with fair success at defining the concepts of old and new-style books. Various chapters by different writers cover largely conceptual material, backed up by small to moderate specifics. In the main, a shortcoming is that having set us up for a whiz-bang new world, their uses of links, graphics and other technologies are only so-so.

Never mind, their ideas are big and sound.

Sure, we’ve all noticed and used ebooks in various formats on disparate platforms. The writers in the manifesto tell us how we got to this point, from technological, artistic and business perspectives. It is well worth wading through the differing voices of part one to get a fix on how format and form, context and content, truly differ and how each affects the present and will affect the future of publishing.

Note for example that context is key, above content, already. Writers and publishers are already responding to the new truth that “Increasingly, readers want convenience, specificity, discoverability, ease of access, and connection.” That is bringing with it such features as automated updates and links that go beyond the footnote model. Extra information now has to offer two kinds of new utility. First it must be “immersive” — appearing at a point in the book where it is most useful, and second, it must be nontrivial — “Primary source material, topics not easily discoverable via search engines, or deeply curated dives into ancillary topics represent rewarding additions that readers will want to explore.”

That requires a heightened, self-aware level of savvy that the writers claim is in the works.

So you can see what’s happened so far and what is in the works, they dive into the related technologies as well as the concepts. There’s a good introduction to a dozen development, publishing and distribution tools with examples. There’s also a tutorial on the benefits and drawbacks of the different digital rights management (DRM) schemes. Distribution, design and metadata each get a section by a different expert.

While O’Leary’s Context, not Container piece is self-serving, it is specific about how O’Reilly approached epubs. He details the technologies and distribution methods they used. They clearly were not afraid of jumping in and learning in the process.

He criticizes publishers who fumble in this transitional period. Many do in fact just want to figure a way to continue as they have as much as possible, while keeping profit margins. He calls this attitude “container myopia.” He figures that new entrants and existing publishers who get it will thrive by delivering books or book-like-things that let the readers discover in the process, as well as reuse the material. The old minds who simply see digital publishing as a cheaper way to deliver will get left out.

Instead, this work includes calls for deep and early tagging, for products that solve readers problems and let them satisfy their curiosity with related material and seems to flow from the content. Publishers will have to adhere to current and emerging standards and encourage reuse of their products.  Success should come to those who help readers/purchasers manage abundant information well.

This first third is, as they admit up front, a teaser. I want the rest. The epub itself makes a compelling argument for updatable books, purchases that include improved versions as they are ready.

I already want more from writer/designer Craig Mod, who framed his section with Everyone asks, “How do we change books to read them digitally?” But the more interesting question is, “How does digital change books?” And, similarly, “How does digital change the authorship process?” He provides examples of divides between products delivered as printed, on an iPhone or Kindle, and on an iPad. The tablet leaps over the limitations of the other deliveries.

Another touchstone is Wikipedia. It lets us “develop a text in real time, erasing the preciousness imbued by printing.” Or in futurist terms “Time itself becomes an active ingredient in authorship.”

With its flaws, such as fairly lame links, the manifesto is plenty of value in its first third. More please.

Book: A Futurist’s Manifesto
Hugh McGuire, Brian O’Leary
Publisher:O’Reilly Media
Formats: Print Ebook Safari Books Online
Print: December 2011 (est.) $24.99
Ebook: October 2011 $7.99
Kindle at Amazon $6.39
Pages: 91 for first release
Print ISBN:978-1-4493-0560-4 | ISBN 10:1-4493-0560-1
Ebook ISBN:978-1-4493-0559-8 | ISBN 10:1-4493-0559-8
PressBook free version for online commenting. Click on ToC entry to read it.


7 Responses

  1. Hugh McGuire says:

    Hi Harrumpher, thanks for the detailed review…& thoughtful feedback. I wonder could you elaborate on “lame links”? Do you mean: “we linked to lame stuff” … or … “the links didn’t work well” …or “the links look crappy” … or … something else?

    Also note: the PressBooks epub export — when we produced this output, had no styling associated with it, so things are a bit uglier than they will be in the next version …

    (speaking of which, er, your link to “author’s site” above is broken, in a couple of ways!)

  2. Agreed about the links – a lot of what was included in the first drafts (which were published on the web) were much more heavily linked. Good inputs for parts 2 and 3.

    Perhaps you could talk a bit more about “self-serving”. I’m not sure I understand why you think that.

  3. Harrumpher says:

    Well, Mr. M, first thanks for finding the sick link. I had pasted the site while dropping the h in http. I corrected that.

    For comments on the links, some were to graphics which did not scale. More important to me was the clear call for useful links to information the reader would want to expand on a topic. Perhaps unreasonably, I was expecting brilliant examples of that in the links provided. They seemed largely mundane to be and exactly what people would find if they searched on Google/Bing/Yahoo. I wanted great links that went beyond what I’d think of immediately.

    I am looking forward to the next installment.

  4. Hugh McGuire says:

    OK thanks … so the link problems were:
    * links should be to more interesting things
    * image links were not useful


    also, via Brian O’Leary, comes this question: “self-serving?” … a question which I would echo. Brian is probably the most selfless soul dedicated to helping publishing that I know of. I’m not sure in what ways telling publishers things they do not want to hear, or are not ready to hear is self-serving?

    anyway, thanks again for the thoughtful analysis…

  5. Harrumpher says:

    Ah, he may well be all those things. The problem for me was overshadowed by the detailed examples in that section. Nonetheless, the major risk of autobiographical case histories in business and technology is balancing ego and intimate knowledge.

    In another lifetime when I wrote for Inc. Magazine, we had a feature-story formula. I almost destroyed my company, but I’m so brilliant that I identified the problem and solution, and fixed everything. Those fit the mandate from the publisher to be an MBA course between the covers of his magazine. Yet consultants and academics would tease us about the elegance and perfection in the trouble/fix routine.

    Again, as with the Inc. stories, his details are certainly useful. The leading edge/bleeding edge tone made me wonder after awhile whether he truly was so pioneering. He may well have been and may be.


  6. Hugh McGuire says:

    heh. I’ll let Brian respond (if he’s inspired to do so) …

  7. Thanks for the explanation.

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