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Publishing News: Trailblazing experiments in publishing

Experiments in serial writing, crowdsourcing and subscriptions. Also, the Internet's effect on copy culture and a bookmarklet for smart tweets.

Here are a few stories from the publishing space that caught my attention recently.

Publishing trailblazers tinker with serials, crowdsourcing and subscriptions

Positron

Margaret Atwood’s third installment in her serial book Positron.

Ron Miller took a look this week at two trailblazing authors who are experimenting with new publishing strategies to make the most of digital. Margaret Atwood is putting a digital hue on an old model — she’s publishing a book, Positron, in serial episodes on Byliner, ala Charles Dickens. With each episode, she’s able to get reader feedback to help determine the story’s direction. In an interview with NPR, Atwood said “[t]he closest analogy is probably TV sitcoms: If somebody’s getting high ratings, you make their part bigger, and if they’re not you have them die of an unfortunate disease.”

Seth Godin has been experimenting with his reader base as well, but more from a front-end revenue standpoint — he used Kickstarter to fund his latest book project. In something of a postmortem, he writes on his blog that “Kickstarter seems custom made to solve the 10,000 copy problem” — getting those first 10,000 readers — especially for an established author or artist who already has a “tribe” to activate, and that “[b]ook publishers are smart enough to see the powerful marketing leverage that this creates.” For independent authors, though, Godin says the Kickstarter platform “is a bit of a nightmare.”

Current experiments in publishing extend into the journalism world as well. Journalist Andrew Sullivan announced this week that he would end his time at The Daily Beast and, beginning February 1, launch a no-ad subscription-based website for his blog The Dish at www.andrewsullivan.com. In the announcement, he called for pre-subscription signups for $19.99 per year via Tinypass, or you can donate more if you so choose.

Mathew Ingram writes at GigaOm that “Sullivan is betting that his personal brand and goodwill with his readers is enough to convince a substantial proportion of them to fund his writing — a more sophisticated version of the ‘tip jar’ model,” and wonders if it will work. (Ingram also looks at potential repercussions for other writers who may want to turn independent and for traditional media entities — you can read his piece here.)

As to whether it’s going to work, Sullivan told TechCrunch’s Anthony Ha that in the first six hours, they were “well into the six figures.” In a later update post at The Daily Beast, Sullivan breaks down the early subscription data and writes: “Basically, we’ve gotten a third of a million dollars in 24 hours, with close to 12,000 paid subscribers (at last count). On average, readers paid almost $8 more than we asked for.”

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The Internet’s influence on the culture of copy

In a third installment in a series of essays on how the digital revolution is affecting the world of culture, James Panero takes a look at its effect on the culture of copy, on the printed word. Looking back, Panero notes that “[i]t wasn’t until nearly 200 years on [after the 16th century] that Francis Bacon located the printing press alongside gunpowder and the compass as changing ‘the whole face and state of things throughout the world,'” and argues “that the invention of the Internet is the under-recognized revolution of our time.” He says that though we may be aware of the effect the Internet has had on information, we are much less aware of its influence on us. A brief excerpt from his essay sets the stage:

“One way to situate the Internet is to see it as inaugurating the next stage of copy culture — the way we duplicate, spread, and store information — and to compare it to the print era we are leaving behind. New technologies in their early development often mimic the obsolete systems they are replacing, and the Internet has been no different. Terms like ‘ebook’ and ‘online publishing’ offer up approximations of print technology while revealing little of the new technology’s intrinsic nature.

“Just as the written word changed the spoken word and the printed word changed the written word, so too will the digital word change the printed word, supplementing but not replacing the earlier forms of information technology. Speaking and writing both survived the print revolution, and print will survive the Internet revolution. The difference is that the Internet, with its ability to duplicate and transmit information to an infinite number of destinations, will increasingly influence the culture of the copy.”

You can read Panero’s piece in its entirety at The New Criterion — it’s this week’s recommended read.

Tweet smarter, not harder

Discovery is the holy grail of all kinds of content in the digital age, from blogs to books to magazine articles. Arguably, one of the best discovery avenues is social sharing, and if you’re past high school, Twitter is one of the most-used avenues for link discovery. As O’Reilly Radar analyst and O’Reilly Strata Conference chair Edd Dumbill notes in a recent post, however, nobody wants to be a “retweet bot for publishers,” and who has the time to craft intelligent retweets with custom commentary to fit in 140 characters? “Most of the time it’s easier just to bookmark, or hit ‘read later,’ and not put in the effort to share,” he writes.

Struggle no more — Dumbill highlights a new bookmarklet by programmer Paul Ford called Save Publishing designed to streamline the task of the intelligent tweet. “On activating the bookmarklet while viewing an article you wish to share,” Dumbill explains, “it highlights and makes clickable all the tweetable phrases from the page.” As Dumbill notes, while “save publishing” may be a tongue-in-cheek name, “anything that helps readers express what they like and share with each other is a boon to publishers and readers alike.”

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News tips and suggestions are always welcome, so please send them along.

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