Self-publishing books and articles

Self-publishing is the in-thing, and a good thing too.

AssociatedContent is a hybrid web-publishing and content sharing platform. It has been going for a year now and has quite a collection of content. Clicking on "books", for example, brings you to a collection of book reviews ordered by date of posting. The collection is eclectic, and unless you are happy to get a list "by most recent" for its search categories, a bit haphazard. A more fine-tuned tagging system would help, such as Amazon’s ability to let customers browse broad categories and then fine-tune down within the category. Of course, the website is by no means limited to book reviews, content covers just about anything, written, video and audio.

Each (written) article has plenty of features, for example a reader scoring system, comment facility, links to related articles, links to previous articles by that author — and the inevitable ads (courtesy Google). The owners, Softbank Captial, say they have invested 5.4 million US dollars; users and conent providers are said to be professionals of various descriptions. There’s a whole range of material the site will consider publishing and, it says, pay for (hmmm). Their tagline is "Soon, everyone will be published on AssociatedContent". I’m going to add it, or rather a bit of it, to my rss reader for a while to see what the output is like — the site itself is a bit "busy" for my personal taste so it is perfect for rss.

The more conventional ("moribund" as one of my colleagues flippantly has been heard to call it) medium of paper lives on. In one of those free glossy magazines that comes through my door every month and generally goes straight into the recycling box is a feature about Grosvenor House Publishing, which is run by someone who lives locally, it turns out. GH is one of many such ventures: the trend started in the USA but has caught on, enabled by the internet, and this particular example seems not bad on the face of it. G. P. Taylor, who writes best-sellers such as "Shadowmancer", is a featured author.

This company charges 495 pounds sterling for a professionally finished book, Amazon distribution and limited UK bookshop distribution. They are cagey about the print run but I would guess it is essentially a print-on-demand operation. I’m impressed by their website, service to authors (marketing guidance provided) and testimonials by published authors. More power to Grosvenor House and to outfits like them; more power to authors.

equiano said…

The other biggie to keep an eye out for is Lightning Source, which is entirely print on demand and is a sister company to Ingram Books in the USA. Interestingly, in both the UK and USA, Lightning Source is in the same industrial park as Amazon, and books are printed by Lightning Source and often sent out same/next day by Amazon. We have seen a lot of West African titles coming out of the continent being produced in the west by Lightning Source – better quality of production and fewer delays. It is my understanding that plenty of individuals are now setting themselves up as publishers and producing their own books, or other books out of copyright, through this method.

8:42 AM

Placeism in the global network

A few weeks ago, Dave Lull introduced me to the concept of "place-ism", specifically a book by Bill Kauffman called Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette. Mr Kauffman’s book is about staying in one place, not going anywhere, and being the richer for it. He tells many anecdotes about his own place, Batavia in New York State, some amusing, some wry. There is a strong sense of nostalgia for the small-scale, personal way things were done in the past (similarly addressed, also with some lack of objectivity, by John Grisham in, say, The Last Juror or the Broker). There is also a deep thread of personal history. Read the book (I can’t do justice to all its aspects here): it’s funny and instructive, neatly capturing, for example, the ambiguity of personal choice versus the expectations others (our families, mainly) have of us.

I believe, if memory serves, that Dave recommended this book in light of some discussion we were having about the "small-scaleness" of blogging. I probably mentioned (or droned on about) how after I started blogging I rapidly found the Internet to be a small place, against my expectations. Blogging is a "placeist" activity, in that one can use the technology of the Web to fall into a localised yet intense sphere that is common to you and a very few other people. It is a placeism of the mind, in which one’s fellow travellers are not living in the next street and whom you never see face-to-face.

Another aspect of placeism is the strong sense of "home" infusing Mr Kauffman’s book (and indeed, John Grisham’s). As has been pointed out many times, far fewer people have this sense of "place" and inner stability today compared with pre-industrial pasts. But one can make one’s own place. In the morning on the way to work, I stop off at an Italian coffee shop for my only allowed cup of the day (in preference to using the free machines at work). I don’t go to this place every day, but I never have to specify the way I like my coffee, because the guy always remembers. At Christmas time, he gave me a large pantotte. On his counter, he has an Internet connection open showing his website: not google or a news site, but a slideshow of his own sandwiches to order, his Vespa for sale, and so on. This is a "place" for ex-nomads such as myself who do not have a Batavia or a Silloth; one goes through life collecting them up.

MySpace and place
I came across another article, this time as a result of thinking and discussions about MySpace, whose "overnight and complete" market success among the young is of intense interest in many established companies who wonder how MySpace did it. As well they might. At the recent O’Reilly Emerging Technology conference, Danah Boyd gave a talk about "glocalisation". As she says, a grotesque word, and defined by her as the "ugliness that ensues when the global and local are shoved uncomfortably into the same concept." Her perspective is that of web design of social software, but she makes some very insightful comments about customers, particularly young ones, and by extension, placeism.

"When mass media began, people assumed we would all converge upon one global culture. While the media had an effect, complete homogenisation has not occurred. And it will not. While some values spread and are adopted en-masse, cultures form within mass culture to differentiate smaller groups of people. Style-driven subcultures are the most visible form of this, but it occurs in companies and other social gatherings".

Ms Boyd is not talking about the company of bloggers/army of Davids, but she might as well be. Her article, as I say, is directed towards use of social space from the company perspective, and her comments about customer service should be required reading by any business 😉 . Leaving that aside, and many fascinating observations which make me urge you to read her transcript, DB goes on to say:

"Just becuase people can connect globally does not mean they want to. People are more drawn to those who are like them, who share their same values and cultural norms. In this way, people don’t have to explain the foundations of their thoughts. They feel more closely aligned and more willing to share with people who are more like them." "People collide on Flickr becuase they took similar photos; they find wonderful blogs through search." I won’t go on to paraphrase DB’s developing argument about random collisions and rareness, as if you’ve read this far you’ll know if you are with her and want to read the article. I also lost touch with the piece as it ended with an analysis of language and symbols.

But my summary of her bottom line, "designing for glocalisation", is placeism through and through:

  • Empower users to personalise and culturalise their spaces online (blogs, MySpace, etc)
  • Provide the cultural environment where people can accidentally connect with strangers over meaningful things (public not private networks)
  • Empower individual users to be cultural spokespeople (modifiable systems)
  • It’s all got to work and the network builders have to really, really care about it working the way the users want (good customer service, as exemplified by MySpace, Flickr, Craigslist)

One final quote: "Organic community growth, embedded design and the ability to connect culturally local communities through global network[s] are the way to form large sustainable communities."

Lawrence, Kansas

Finally, and I am almost at the end now, a kind of postscript to this posting is The newspaper of the future, once again via a link from Dave Lull. This long article in the New York Times business section describes the Journal-World of Lawrence, Kansas. This newspaper, via profits from its broadband holding, is providing interactive, imaginative and multimedia information for the town of Lawrence "however the consumer wants it and wherever the consumer wants it, in the most complete and useful way possible." There are lots of Kauffmanian examples in the piece linked to here (not (yet?) behind subscription wall). Pace Glenn Reynolds, journalists providing the information have retrained to become multi-taskers, and investment is being made in all types of information technologies to convey and receive the information (customer feedback, note, being a significant part of the equation). At the end of the day the financial constraints may be limiting. But the Lawrence experience is definitely one for the placeists among us to watch.

Night buses

The excellent Richard Morrison (the Times music critic but so much else besides) had a lovely article in Tuesday’s paper about his experiences getting home after reviewing a performance in the provinces. Well worth a read, but I was particularly struck by this paragraph near the end:

"To me, the night bus is a metaphor for so many useful public domains in Britain, from comprehensives and hospitals to swimming pools and parks, that are falling into terminal squalor because the middle classes have shrunk from them in horror, and decided to fund far more expensive private alternatives for their own exclusive use. The result is that Britain is increasingly two nations.I don’t like that. Which is why, as a token gesture you may consider ludicrous, I still use night buses."

I also like his subsequent paragraph:

"Besides, there’s a good chance that, among the dishelleved revellers returning from the grungy dives of Camden Town, I will bump into my own children. And as sociologists are always telling us, no father should spurn the opportunity to spend quality time with his offspring. Even if it involves lurching through the mean streets of North London as dawn breaks over Kentish Town."