Why I’m Back In the Book Sprint…


The “Sprint Beyond the Book” has arrived on my turf—Silicon Valley—for a three-day session at Stanford University. I’m here to keep exploring.

As I wrote when I participated in the project last fall at the Frankfurt Book Fair, I’m here for two main reasons:

First, as a writer who’s been trying to push boundaries for years, I’m keen to learn more about where authoring, publishing and reading (all in the broadest sense) are heading as we evolve away from our traditional manufacturing models. Second, I’m sitting at a table with authors and thinkers I admire.

Iqra: Read by Swamibu / © Some rights reserved.

Publishing, or whatever we want to call the process of making books (whatever they are in this new era), is an ecosystem, not a a process or an industry. The creative process should be central to the production of media of all kinds, but in the traditional publishing world it was subsumed to the needs of the publishing companies. Now, it’s all about getting the creator’s ideas into the hands, and brains, of the people who are interested in the topic.

I’m especially glad that this week’s gathering is ranging beyond “authors” in the traditional sense of the word. In particular, people who focus on design are part of the mix—and we need them in a big way. Books have gone through centuries of design evolution, with the result we’d expect: a physical book, done right, is a pleasure to hold and to read.

Now that we’re moving everything into digital forms, we are all rethinking—among other things—a) what a book is; b) what kind of media it can include; c) what it should look like; d) how it should work interactively; and e) how we can ensure that at least some authors get paid for what they do.

Among the things I’m looking forward to discussing here is what we can include in the category of “book”—media of various kinds (video, games, etc.), conversations with audiences, and more—while focusing more on the “reader.” The words “book” and “reader” are in quotes because they feel inadequate to what we’re going to be doing, as creators and audiences, in coming years. Do we need new words? Probably not; we still “dial” phones even though rotary dials left the scene decades ago, and people create “films” that have never been within a mile of celluloid.

Like most authors I tend to write what interests me, figuring that if I care someone else will, too. As I work on a new project—a book (and more) about who controls technology and communications and how we can reverse what I consider a pernicious trend of centralization—I’ve been wondering what I can do to make it more useful, and compelling, to the people who are concerned about what’s happening. My last book included a WordPress installation (with lesson plans) for teachers. This one will include a MOOC, a massive open online course, that I hope will help people understand what’s at stake and do something about it.

Needless to say, I plan to do more listening here than than talking. Here we go.

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