My friends and colleagues at Safari Books Online will be posting a blog entry every day for the month of November, similar in spirit to National Novel Writing Month, but with less ambition. We’ll focus on technology and publishing issues, though I’m pretty sure at least one post will be about kale. At Threepress we did this back in 2009, but this time it should be much better, with a diversity of voices and viewpoints.
I’ll go first.
Books in Browsers 2012
Once again I was privileged to attend the Internet Archive’s Books in Browsers event. I think of it as the TED of digital publishing, without the brand dilution of a million lesser imitators. Organizer Peter Brantley consistently manages to attract not just the best thinkers in the publishing industry, but outsiders who have innovations to offer and provocative thoughts on writing and storytelling.
Simplify away the incumbents
One of the unique joys of BiB is the way in which themes arise organically. Day 1, in particular, felt to me like a single presentation, expressed in distinct movements:
- The act of publishing can be simpler. (Craig Mod, citing The Magazine)
- The existing complexity only benefits incumbents. (Brian O’Leary)
- Too much of that complexity comes from technologies that have outlived their usefulness. (John Maxwell)
- Simpler, better tools already exist and are free. (Adam Witwer and Adam Hyde)
- Embrace the web. (everyone)
Very little about Day 1 was recognizably about traditional publishing. Most of it wasn’t even about specific formats or software. It was about resetting our expectations of what the act of publishing is: who can do it, how quickly, and the ways in which it’s converging with every other activity in our digital lives.
One of the other delightful aspects of BiB is how one presentation can accidentally be a refutation of the other. Immediately following my talk, where I derided the “white rectangle UI” of authoring systems from MS Word to the typewriter to the quill pen, Blaine Cook and Maureen Evans stepped up to present Poetica, a truly exciting extension of that very old interface. Poetica is not quite done yet, but it’s lovely and thoughtful and absolutely unlike any other “publishing workflow” I’ve suffered to use or have pitched to me.
Qaulity [sic], not quantity
Not many BiB attendees actually work at publishing houses, but everyone there cares about reading, writing, and learning. Kassia Krozser had joked about doing a “live demo” (of reading a print book), and I wish she had, because her talk came at the conclusion of Day 2 and would neatly reinforced Day 1’s emergent theme of simplicity. In the end, what matters is the quality of the writing: did I enjoy myself? Did I learn something? Am I a better person for having lent two hours of my time to this author’s point of view?
Though perhaps “writing” doesn’t purely fit anymore. There were BiB presentations about video, and audio, and gameplay, none of them in the context of tedious profit-motivated “enhanced ebooks.” Sometimes the story is an aggregation of video (Ben Moskowitz), then-and-now photos and draft screenplays (Masaaki Hagino), or peer-to-peer game design (Tobias Green). I learned that the work doesn’t need to be composed of words. It tells the story we need to hear.
See you next year!