Publishing: The New Performance Art


Quote my words, take my picture, share my ideas and conversation, make public who I am, what I think, how I live, is turning what used to be my private life into a public performance. Publishing contracts need to move beyond licensing the publication of a static text byproduct of my time and imagination, and become a performance contract, allowing all of us online citizens to craft and enact business arrangements for living out loud.

Bookmobiles in Reverse: Rogue Wheeled Scanners


We humans have never lived in an environment like this digital one, one that is increasing exponentially in complexity and size. None of us can keep up. The latest new thing yanks attention this way and that. We risk that whole libraries of content and backlists may be leapfrogged over, ignored, never digitally archived, lost forever.

As traditional publishers consolidate to a handful of global players, all with sophisticated digital strategies and business models serving their current business interests, perhaps, increasingly, only the content they choose to publish or aggregate or point to may  be found by online readers, on terms these few publishers dictate.

OK, maybe free search will still turn up unvalidated forests of digital content unbranded by any traditional publishing authority (such as publisher, library, university, or gov.), adding bricks to our Tower of Babel.  But in both cases, digitized content = centrally controlled content, and, as we saw on the side of the barn in Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” such content can be changed with a keystroke.  Readers of the future should be ensured both of the comprehensiveness of online scanned content, and also its fidelity to the printed word. Time for a popular library?

Perhaps some new, extra-institutional publishers will crank up and take a populist approach to building and maintaining personal libraries from around the world, creating a multilingual, ubiquitously available online library. Instead of Bookmobiles bringing books for people to read in outlying communities, a small UHaul  Bookmobile carrying a state of the art scanner may roll in to town, funded by the local Rotary or Chamber of Commerce, and spend a Saturday at the Community House, scanning for free people’s rare books and documents, creating a people’s library, accompanied by a rich semantic index which could be created and maintained by university-based indexers and metadata experts, growing a new and popular library before all those old paper books get….recycled.

The Way the Trees Are: Cabin #1


Five years from now, when the loons start to sing and the weather heats up,  we’ll want to read a real book or 2 up in Cabin #1, at the end of the path, deep in the woods where solitude reigns and cellphones don’t work. We will take  backroads up to the North Country,  avoiding EZPass scanners on I95, shutting off or leaving home any GPS enabled clothing, accessories like glasses, jewelry, or other devices. We’ll stop at non-chain eateries along the way, to avoid security cameras and ubiquitous computing opportunities at all the hot spots along the route, where what used to be furniture (tabletops, backs of seat cushions, menus, bathroom wall fixtures) now take the place of the devices we tote around today — PDAs and cellphones. Your retina scan, your thumb print, will let you log in from virtually anywhere (except Cabin #1!) . Even your clothing will be “hot!” Gone will be the days of toting around a plastic rectangle, keeping it charged, thumbing messages into or buying little custom color covers to protect it.  XML will rule; text will flow freely. You will be able to access your online avatar(s)  (you may assume multiple identities!) from anywhere, without needing to remember usernames and pwds because your retina/fingerprint/dna “me-suite” will take care of that customer ID you, and you will be able to get news, content, messages, pix, tunes, books  — hey, it’s all one! — from anywhere at any time. Take off your T-shirt, shake it to stiffen up the interface, and bingo, you’ve got a screen to stare at and live in, no matter where you are. When devices are gone, no longer will you have to wrestle with these costly “plans” from for-profit telcos to maintain your online presence, getting locked into years-long licenses of paying exorbitant fees for insubstantial digital “products” like # of text messages.  You will be required by the government to be online all the time, and will get fined and possibly jailed  if you are not online. Universal health care will mean that your biometrics will need to get uploaded regularly, or you will not be covered if you need medical attention.

So this trip to Cabin #1 for the purposes of reading a paper book, the old kind of reading where the type is sunk into the beautiful cotton paper of the page,  may be kind of radical act, kind of like the end of “Fahrenheit 451,” where the book lovers amble among the trees reciting the book they each memorized, after all the books have been destroyed. But remember, if you can get there, and avoid all the satellite- and tower- enabled scanners and ubiquitous readers along the way, there will be a shelf of good books, some clean water to drink, a rocking chair, and an unlimited vista of night stars waiting for you!

Pay the Reader


Online publishers have been struggling to modify for the online media the product-based,  reader-paid business models. This recompense model needs to be flipped on its head, so that humans are paid to think out loud, in the secure, trusted, selected, and recorded environment  of their choosing, either anonymously or for attribution (different pay scales for each). Publishers will license “cogniright” instead of copyright, in this instance, and cognactivity would include such online actions as:

  • generating original prose or commentary
  • footnoting: linking to related sites or publications to buttress one’s original thoughts
  • opinionating: endorsing or damning other publications
  • living out loud: publishing one’s online thought pat

This reader-paid model might best be first implemented in medical publishing, as the life and death impetus has a way of sharpening the business need. And truth and timeliness in publication is critical. Also, in STM or Tech publishing, we frequently see heuristic cycles  of defined content domains where authors who are also readers who are also authors. What’s missing is the business model that compensates readers (and editors) specifically for their online editorial and publishing duties. And when I say compensate I don’t mean only a one-time hourly or retainer fee, but an ongoing residual for contributing to and assuming responsibility for the validity of online content.


Calling All Blue Pencil Dinosaurs!


To understand what will become of editors in the digital future, we need to understand editors’ roles int he context of a traditional publishing house. I use a trade publishing house as an example, where, back in the 1970s when I started out at Little, Brown and Co.,  “editors” had the following roles:

  • Acquisitions Editor — Selects the one book manuscript from the many, publishes a list of authors every year
  • Substantive Editor — Work closely with the Author to realize the book’s potential, focusing on the Big Ideas in the book
  • Manuscript or Line Editor — Pay close attention to the prose, help the author finalize the manuscript on a line-by-line basis
  • Copy Editor — Fine tune the prose, focusing on grammar, consistency, prose, and integrating all the parts (captions, index, etc.)

Working with such editors is how authors like Norman Mailer, J. D. Salinger, Gore Vidal, William Manchester for published at Little, Brown. Editing was a process of refinement, so that readers, when they saw the “LB” logo on the spine of the book, could trust that the prose inside was close to the author’s vision or truth. Publishing was a linear, collaborative,  and analog process, person-to-person, requiring sustained attention by many editors over a period of approximately 9 months. This process has not yet been mapped to the digital world of publications, and rarely exists any more in the world of publishing conglomerates.

In addition to the editors names above, outside of the trade discipline, and into peer-reviewed scientific publications, one needs also to consider peer review editors, who read colleagues’ work and recommend it for publishing or not, usually in a “blind” process where the reviewer is unknown to the author. Again, these editors are part of a larger system, a publishing house, with their goal being to ensure that the resulting publication is as close to the truth as possible.

For independently produced, digital multimedia, kinetic books of the present and future, will there continue to be one single umbrella entity, like LB Co.,  providing a quality control process, funding and distribution for publications produced by editors practicing such roles, plus all the new editing roles — link, video, translation, and display editors for example?    I doubt it.

Roaming about the digital plains today we find many editors of all stripes — most of them freelancing as book doctors or consultants, outside of publishing houses. Who if anyone will harvest their knowledge and skills in author support, in book enabling in this new age? And who will train the generation of editing people and programs to come? Will readers be able to continue to rely on traditional publishers’ logos to ensure that what lies inside a book’s covers is true?

We digital publishers are akin to the first amphibians flopping on the beach, gasping for air as we emerge from the sea of traditional, paper- and product-based publishing. Our old analog ways of doing things, like editing,  do not map to this new world of immediate creation and publication, of living out loud. We see the Tower of Babel rising before our eyes, self erecting. Our search for answers happens urgently, in real time. Thanks to ASU & FBF for leading the industry to define and assume its role in the new world.

See als, from the early days of online publishing: