Sunday, March 06, 2011

Innovations in information industries

Most of what I read on a daily basis has to do with publishing, the news, technology, and social change. The evolution to revolution to evolution cycle in the news business and in publishing - driven by cycles of technology, behavior change, expectation setting, technology innovation, repeat - are fascinating to me. Not just because I've always wanted to be a writer and I've always read the news. But because the cycles are visible in those industries but relevant and related to all other industries.

Here are some innovations in publishing and news that I think are relevant to the other information industries (including philanthropy).

Seth Godin and Amazon's The Domino Project.
Godin is a master marketer. Amazon is providing the platform for short, inexpensive books/videos on "ideas worth spreading."Domino calls them manifestos. The project deliberately plays with pricing - there are several options for format, price, etc. Godin also recruited a community of evangelists about the project - as much as a new form of publishing, The Domino Project has all the characteristics of a digitally-native, social network approach to sharing information.

And, yes, ideas worth spreading is TED's tagline. And yes, TED just announced its own series of TED books. Together, The Domino Project and TED Books are two of the highest profile, multimedia "idea" publication innovations. TED is interesting because first it hosted a conference, then it built a community, then it expanded the size and shape of that community by facilitating self-organized offshoots and then it decided to publish books. I like both of these projects because they fit the medium to the idea, not the other way around.

Amazon Singles - this is another effort to match the format to the idea. Amazon singles are essentially stand-alone long magazine articles. They're priced at $2 or $3. On iTunes you can buy just the single song you want, no need to buy a whole album. Amazon singles lets you do this with writing - buy just an article, not a whole magazine (and no advertising). Of course, the intent is that writers will write intentional singles and sell them as such, skipping the magazine altogether. Amazon singles are only available electronically - there is no paper version. One Singles author is selling more than 100,000 copies of her novels per month at $1-$3 each.

(Related but different - Kevin Kelly asks if the actual Kindle, the device itself, might be free by November 2011. That would certainly be an interesting sign about the business models in publishing.)

All of the above involve Amazon. Indie book stores are offering electronic books in partnership with Google Books, offering unbelievable speakers series, printing books on demand, and working with authors, and innovating like mad.

Push Pop Press - software that will make it easier for digital books to use all the cool capacity of being digital.

Byliner - a website that will let you track and follow your favorite writers' writing on the web. In development.

The Atavist - a publisher of long form nonfiction for electronic readers.

Lulu, Blurb, scribd, slideshare, issuu and other self-publishers. I also like the format that underlies this paper on storytelling and community from the Orton Family Foundation - allowing for easy reading and easy commenting.

The - Writer Stephen Elliot started the Rumpus as an online magazine of culture. It's expanded into a publishing house, book group, community, book review site, and general phenomenon. A remarkable nonprofit start up publishing community. There are all sorts of book-related web communities - FiveChapters posts one short story per week, The Awl is an amazing online magazine, and longform curates article-length fiction and nonfiction.

McSweeeny's, 826 National and ScholarMatch. Dave Eggers and friends launched a magazine, a publishing house, a literacy program (with its own pirate store!), and scholarship program. A hybrid nonprofit/commercial community-based, grassroots publishing "empire."

Flipboard - this iPad application pulls feeds together (Twitter, Facebook, and a curated list of blogs and other sites) into a magazine format. On "page" after "page" on your device you get a mix of personal updates, edited nonfiction from major magazines, short blast updates from major newspapers, and anything else you've subscribed to. Everything is a click away from being reposted to your own twitter feed, Facebook page, Instapaper account, or email. You get to be your own curating editor. It is a signal of what's to come.

O'Reilly Tools of Change conference on the Future of Publishing - O'Reilly Media is a publishing house that has become a center for future thinking. Tim O'Reilly is a leading thinker about both the future of government and the future of publishing. The Tools of Change conference is a good place to see the edge of publishing.

There is also setting a new standard for "fast books." OR Books published Micah Sifry's book on Wikileaks in February 2011 - only months after the organization rose to worldwide fame (infamy). On March 3 I learned OR was publishing a book on the tweets related to the Egyptian Revolution (which began on January 25) - from revolution to book in under 6 weeks.

Digital Book World (conference for the industry) has lots more information on where digital publishing is going. The American Library Association and the universe of fabulous librarian blogs and tweeters have much to offer on what these digital innovations mean for libraries and sharing. Did you know there is a Digital Public Library of America. (#DPLA) is trying to foster a community of readers who share Amazon Kindle books. The Screen Publishers Meetup is a community for those of us trying to figure out how to publish online.

Why does any of this matter to philanthropy? Foundations have a lot of information to share.
  • On a tactical level these publishing changes make it easier for non-publisher publishers to share their ideas.
  • On a strategic level, everyone who uses information and ideas to shape their philanthropy can benefit from considering the drivers of change in publishing and asking "What do these drivers mean for me?"
  • On an industry level, many changemakers (funders, investors, donors, activists) are already imagining new mechanisms for change that capitalize on the digital, individualized, networked, low cost, customizable approaches to information that underlie the publishing innovation above. Each of us will improve our own work if we better understand the changing landscape in which we work.


Mazarine said...

Dear Lucy,

I looked into these online publishers, and most of them have a list of complaints on the better business bureau website as long as your arm.

it's one thing to say that publishing is now in the hands of the people, but it does mean that a lot more crap gets published, AND that a lot of publishing is reserved for people who have the cash to publish their books. It's vanity press.

I doubt that the ted book series will go very far. We're living in an image based society, and if people can just look at the ted videos online for free, why would they own a ted book, which is much less immediate, and less compelling than a video?


(who did use a local, woman owned eco-friendly press to publish her books)

Lucy Bernholz said...

Thanks for doing some background checking. Some of the sites listed are still in beta. Some of them have been around for awhile and have both happy and unhappy customers. I've used Amazon kindle publishing, blurb, lulu, slideshare, scribd, issuu - and there are things I love and hate about all of them.

One of the important functions that is changing as so many of us get access to the "printing press" is the role of curator/editor/gatekeeper. We get to create these for ourselves also. Sometimes our curators choose curators - TED had Bill Gates curate an entire stream of the conference this year. In a room with more noise, the need to find a clear signal - and send clear, worthwhile, valuable signals - only increases. I think that lesson matters to philanthropic foundations, philanthropically funded ideas.