Posts about Book

What Would Google Do?

What Would Google Do? is a month away. I know you’re not counting the days, but I am.

wwgd_jackeytHere‘s its web home, where you can preorder the book (thanks in advance) from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, or Powells. Here‘s its Facebook page, where the discussion will continue, I hope. As a hoot, the publisher (Collins) made a CafePress store, where you can order WWGD? buttons, mugs, and T-shirt (I’m holding out for hats and bumperstickers). There’ll be an audiobook (for which I tortured the producers reading at three times normal human speed; they had to find 100 nice ways to tell me to slow down), an electronic book, a V-book (an E-book with video), a Kindle version, and a video version. I’ll soon be posting WWGD?: The PowerPoint for free. The publisher also plans to put up pieces of the book for free; more on that later.

The book just got a blog review
from bookseller and author Drew Goodman: “The scariest chapter for me, was when Jarvis re-imagined the book publishing and selling business. I work in a bookstore. I write books. As an author, you write books and hope people like your words enough to pay for them. As a bookseller, you help people find authors that appeal to them so that they will buy the books from your bookstore. What if my livelihood were suddenly changed by an influx of free books on the Internet, or offering only ebooks. Is this such a bad thing, Jarvis asks. I began the chapter by screaming “Yes.” I ended the chapter by realizing that the Internet actually helps my business, both in writing and selling books.”

I couldn’t wish for a better response. (If only they were all like that.)

So far, I have one trip scheduled to California for the book. When and if other events are scheduled, I’ll update the book pages.

Pardon the hype. I’ll try to keep it to a minimum (though your idea of minimum and mine may be slightly different). Now we return to our regularly scheduled snark.

: LATER: Here’s the publisher’s official page for the book and a post on the new Collins Backstage blog. And, for amusement, they put up a countdown widget:

HarperCollins Releases
Check out the newest Books from HarperCollins and bring them to your Desktop.

Sponsors for books, continued

For those who were interested in this post asking about sponsorship for my book, please see the discussion there and Rick Smolan’s answers to some of their questions and concerns.

Sound the trumpets

I sent the last of my first draft of the book to my editor last night. I believe the saying is, woot. I’m headed in this morning to go over it with him for my first revision. We’re on a fast track (for book publishing): It will be out in January.

The myth of the creative class

As I near the end of writing my book, one lesson that has struck me is about the will of most people to create, and the new possibilities the Google age brings us.

One survey I quote says that 81 percent of us say we have a book in us. Another survey says that a coincidental 81 percent of young people think they have a business in them. We make tens of millions of blogs. We take hundreds of millions of Flickr photos. A few hundred thousand people write applications for Facebook. Paulo Coelho (see the post below) asks his readers to make a movie of his book and they eagerly do so. Stephen Colbert challenges his viewers to remix John McCain and they do. Howard Stern doesn’t even ask his listeners and they produce no end of song parodies and anthems to Baba Booey. The art and entertainment of Lonely Girl 15 becomes not just the videos they make but the videos viewers make. Every minute, 10 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube. People create T-shirt designs on Threadless and sneaker designs on Ryz and things of all descriptions on Etsy. BMW invites drivers to color a car and 9,000 people do. And on and on.

This has surely always been the case. The internet doesn’t make us more creative, I don’t think. But it does enable what we create to be seen, heard, and used. It enables every creator to find a public, the public he or she merits. And that takes creation out of the proprietary hands of the supposed creative class.

Internet curmudgeons argue that Google et al are bringing society to ruin precisely because they rob the creative class of its financial support and exclusivity: its pedestal. But internet triumphalists, like me, argue that the internet opens up creativity past one-size-fits-all mass measurements and priestly definitions and lets us not only find what we like but find people who like what we do. The internet kills the mass, once and for all. With it comes the death of mass economics and mass media, but I don’t lament that, not for a moment.

The curmudgeons also argue that this level playing field is flooded with crap: a loss of taste and discrimination. I’ll argue just the opposite: Only the playing field is flat and to stand out one must now do so on merit – as defined by the public rather than the priests – which will be rewarded with links and attention. This is our link economy, our culture of links. It is a meritocracy, only now there are many definitions of merit and each must be earned.

We have believed – I have been taught – that there are two scarcities in society: talent and attention. There are only so many people with talent and we give their talent only so much attention – not enough of either.

But we are shifting, too, from a culture of scarcity to one of abundance. That is the essence of the Google worldview: managing abundance. So let’s assume that instead of a scarcity there is an abundance of talent and a limitless will to create but it has been tamped down by an educational system that insists on sameness; starved by a mass economic system that rewarded only a few giants; and discouraged by a critical system that anointed a closed, small creative class. Now talent of many descriptions and levels can express itself and grow. We want to create and we want to be generous with our creations. And we will get the attention we deserve. That means that crap will be ignored. It just depends on your definition of crap.

This link ecology does potentially change the nature of creativity. It makes it more collaborative, not just in the act but in the inspiration. Coelho’s Witch of Portobello is the spark that leads to a movie made by its readers. Same with Stern, LonelyGirl, Colbert. Perhaps the role of the creative class is not so much to make finished products but to inspire more to be made. It is the flint of creativity. It’s the internet – Google, Flickr, YouTube, and old, mass media as their accessories – that bring flint and spark together.

I’ve long disagreed with those who say that copyright kills creativity, for I do believe that there is no scarcity of inspiration. But I now understand their position better. I also have learned that when creations are restricted it is the creator who suffers more because his creation won’t find its full and true public, its spark finds no kindling, and the fire dies. The creative class, copyright, mass media, and curmudgeonly critics stop what should be a continuing process of creation; like reverse alchemists, they turn abundance into scarcity, gold into lead.

When we talk about the Google age, then, we do talk about a new society and the rules I explore in my book are the rules of that society, built on connections, links, transparency, openness, publicness, listening, trust, wisdom, generosity, efficiency, markets, niches, platforms, networks, speed, and abundance.

I start by talking about business: how all this affects company, industries, and then institutions and how to react and find advantage in this change. But it will also affect life, and that is what I am writing in the last section of the book. I’m doing that starting today so, as always, I’d be grateful for your generous, wise, open, and abundant thoughts on the topic. Thanks.

: Other categories of ideas I think I’m dealing with in this ending on the impact of Google on society: its impact on our relations; on our attitudes, ethics, and skills; on our institutions and organization.

: LATER: In the comments, Sean says I should link to Richard Florida’s books on the creative class. I have to confess that I bought one of them but never got through it. Books are such an echo chamber.

Apologizing for the book

(recovered post; comments lost)

I’m sparing you drafts of my book as I write it and instead discussing the ideas here and getting smarter for it. But I thought I’d share just a few graphs from the next-to-last chapter, this one on the book industry asking What Would Google Do?

I confess: I’m a hypocrite. If I had followed my own rules – if I had eaten my own dogfood – you wouldn’t be reading this book right now, at least not as a book. You’d be reading it online, for free. You’d have discovered it via links and search. You’d be entering into a conversation around any point in the book. You’d be able to correct me and I’d be able to update the book with the latest amazing stats from Google. This would be even more of a collaboration than it already is. We might form a society of Googlethinkers on Facebook and you’d offer better advice and newer ways to look at the world than I have been able to. I might make money from speaking and consulting instead of a publisher’s advance.

But instead, I made money from a publisher’s advance. That is why you are reading this as a book. Sorry. Dog’s gotta eat.

And the truth is, I already do most everything I describe above – on my blog. I believe the two forms may come together eventually. But in the meantime, I’m no fool; I couldn’t pass up a nice check from Collins, my publisher, and all sorts of services from Harper-Collins, its parent, including editing, design, publicity, sales, a speaker’s bureau, and online help. That’s why publishing is still publishing. The question is, how long can it stay that way?

Ãœberpedia lives

In 2005, I suggested that an old-style publisher’s response to the crowdsourced publishing of Wikipedia should be to create a vetted version of it, to add value and publish the thing. Fred Wilson called it the Red Hat Wikipedia. I called it the Ãœberpedia.

Well, that’s just what is happening to the German Wikipedia thanks to Bertelsmann.

The idea is to use Wikipedia to capture the zeitgeist by selecting the most popular entries, Beate Varnhorn, the editor in charge of Bertelsmann’s reference works, said in an interview by telephone. “We think of it as an encyclopedic yearbook,” Dr. Varnhorn said, leaving open the possibility of new editions if the 2008 version is successful. . . .

Yet Bertelsmann says the project should not be judged as a re-creation in book form of what appears online, but rather as an attempt to harness the collective wisdom of Wikipedia’s users. “Most of the key words are related to current discussions,” Dr. Varnhorn said, whether the subject is the French first lady, Carla Sarkozy, “or a German best seller, a successful TV show or new electronic products — all key words you normally don’t find in a traditional encyclopedia.” . . .

Bertelsmann had a staff of 10 condense and verify the material found online, particularly the “most risky articles,” though Dr. Varnhorn spoke with respect of the amateur writers and editors on the site. “You find errors in the German Wikipedia, but they really try to keep errors as far away as possible.”

The material on the Wikipedia site can be used free under the terms of a license that, among other things, requires crediting Wikipedia as the source. Bertelsmann agreed to pay one euro per copy sold for use of the Wikipedia name, which will help support the site’s operation, according to Mr. Klempert.

But he added: “It is not about the money. It is a very good example of the power of free knowledge, so anyone is free to use the content and do interesting things with it. It’s a nice experiment to see if the Wikipedia content is good enough to sell books.”

New ways to tell stories

At an event last week, Disney head Robert Iger talked about technology providing new ways to tell stories. I came home and found a link from Springwise to this intriguing project at Penguin, the publishers in the UK, trying to do just that. The first in the series tells a tale via Google Maps. And here’s a story written live. Who says that stories must be books and that books must be books?

WWGD? – The book

I’m delighted to tell you that I just got a contract to write a book: WWGD? – What Would Google Do?

I’m reverse-engineering Google, taking the lessons and rules I find in their singular success in the internet economy and applying them to other companies, industries, and institutions. And then I’ll pontificate about the greater importance of Google and links on society and life.

The book will freeze-dry onto paper many of the ideas we explore here. And I’ll continue to explore them here as I write. I decided to approach the book/blog relationship that way, rather than putting up finished chapters and asking you to react to them. It’s more interesting and more valuable to me to have a discussion about our experiences as part of the process. So I’m grateful, as always, for your sharing your thoughts, perspective — and corrections. That’s one of the lessons in the book: It’s a gift economy.

Considering all I’ve written here about the digital future of the book, it is ironic that I’m killing trees. I blame Seth Godin as my nudge-muse, who sat me down at lunch sometime ago and said I was a fool not to write a book because it is a vehicle to get ideas out (and get speaking engagements in). Seth’s only written three or four books since he gave me that advice. So I’m slow to pick up. But it’s good advice.

Of course, I’ll also be applying Google rules to books in the book.

The book was bought by Collins, an imprint of Harper-Collins. My editor is Ben Loehnen and my agent is Kate Lee at ICM. It’ll be out next spring.

Now I have to get to work.