Posts about Book

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.

Cutting up the newsroom

As an exercise for the upcoming New Business Models for News conference at CUNY, I want to take Dave Morgan’s suggestion about cutting up newspapers into four companies — content, production, distribution, sales — and explore the idea of breaking up a newsroom into two companies around two separate functions: gathering and packaging (that is, reporting and editing), each freed to work independently. That last bit is the important change: this means they can work with anyone.

So the packagers’ job would be to find the best news and information for their audience no matter where it comes from: a former colleague reporter, a blogger, a competitor, a TV guy, a print guy, a witness with a camera phone, an expert commentator. You tell them that it is their job to provide the best possible package — or feed — of news for their audience using all available sources and tools — including technology and social networks.

The gatherers’ job is to report. But to stand out and succeed in this post-commodified news market, they can’t just do the stories everybody else is doing. They’ll need to do what is unique and valuable so they get packaged by the packagers. But this also means that anyone can package them: they can produce stories for what was known as a newspaper or for a TV broadcaster and for their blogs.

So how does this economy work? I think it’s a network model. When the packager takes up and presents the gatherer’s content in whole and monetizes it — mostly with advertising — they share revenue. When the packager just links, the gatherer monetizes that traffic, likely as part of an ad network as well.

The hope is that quality wins. Left purely to traffic, that may not be the case. Paris Hilton would win. But that’s where the role of the packager come in — the editor with the reliable brand who went to the trouble to find the best news from the best sources and to add value through vetting and packaging. If you go to that packager because of that value, then the sources the packager uses will get more attention. That, I think, is how news brands survive and succeed: by reliably bringing you the best package and feed of news that matters to you from the best sources. The packagers are now motivated to assure that there are good sources; they want the network to expand and they want quality to be rewarded.

Now, of course, these roles can remain a hybrid. Look at Paid Content, which both gathers and packages. Any good reporter in the future will not only report but will also link to sources and background. An editor who vets and corrects a story is doing so through reporting.

But for the sake of rethinking newsrooms, I still think it’s worthwhile to explore this idea of separating and freeing the functions of the newsroom. We separated them before by medium: print v. digital. But the public isn’t looking at the world that way, only the owners of media did. News is news. That’s why they are being merged back together. But when they are remerged, old roles, old models, old processes, and old politics tend to win out. Print is bigger and older and so it wins. And the organization doesn’t truly change. Also, the organization doesn’t open up to the web and its ecology of links, which bring efficiencies and value not possible in a closed media model. So by freeing these functions to work with the best, wherever it is, and by making their success dependent on that, we really start to reorganize news for the webbed world.

This is the kind of rethinking that should be happening before layoffs come to newsrooms — note today that the New York Times, with America’s most crowded newsroom, just joined that trend with a cut of 100. If this rethinking of the newsroom happens first, instead of announcing layoffs, you might be announcing investments in new external news operations started by reporters who go independent. Andrew Ross Sorkin could start a helluva business in reporting on Wall Street deals that could grow bigger than it can now at the Times — and the Times could invest and own a piece of it and still be motivated to make it big. Ditto the columnists. Ditto Saul Hansell and his Bits blog. And once freed, these excellent journalists could make TV reports for WNBC and finally add some substance to it. Online, reporters’ brands are becoming more prominent and the ruboff of brand value is reversing: reporters were once — and still are — better off for having the Times brand behind them but the Times is also better off having new brands like Freakonomics and Brian (TVNewser) Stelter associated with it.

Pollyanna optimism? Maybe. But we need to start with a new goal and then work back to see whether and how it would be possible to get there. Instead, we’re just waiting for Mr. Grim Reaper to knock on the door with an announcement of layoffs. We need to outrun him.