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Blogging as a New Book Platform

As I continue thinking about the future of publishing, I can’t help but wonder whether the blogging platform could play a role. In previous posts I’ve mentioned my belief that e-books haven’t taken off for two reasons: First, there’s no killer device/application for them. Secondly, most e-books are simple ports of a printed product – a great e-book product needs to be developed with the e-format in mind.

What if a book is truly developed as a blog, using the same approach and platform? Put aside the question of how you monetize the content; I’ll get to that in a minute… For now, consider three interesting benefits that result when a book is constructed this way:

  1. The book is written in an open format, with comments from many in the community. These comments live with the work and will always be available for anyone to read later. If you prefer to simply read just what the author intended, you can skip the comments.
  2. As with most blogs, the material is written in bite-size pieces, not lengthy chapters. This would force authors to be concise, making the reading experience more effective and efficient.
  3. Most importantly, this enables the rich layering I think is required to leverage the platform and create the e-book experience that’s much more effective than a quick dump of a printed book into PDF, for example. You take advantage of extensive links and built-in cross-references that you simply can’t pull off in a printed book.

Quite a few books are being built today through the use of blogs. A good example is the book Robert Scoble and Shel Israel are writing for Wiley. They’re using the Red Couch blog as a way to preview the content and solicit input. That’s great, but I hope you agree that what I’m proposing above is a step or two beyond that.

You could argue that Safari and Books24x7 already offer something like this. Or do they? Aren’t they just simple conversions from the printed book? There are a few more bells and whistles than the printed version, but the Safari and Books24x7 content wasn’t developed from the ground up with an online platform in mind.

Back to the million-dollar question: How do you monetize this model? One option is to take the core content and put it into a printed book format when the writing is finished. You lose the benefit of the comments feature in point #1 and all of point #3 above though. Another option is to move the blog into some sort of subscription-based system after the book is complete. One problem there is that everything up to that point has been Googled, meaning it’s all out there in an archive for anyone to read. A third option is to build and host the product using an advertising revenue model. That sounds like the hardest one of all…

What are your thoughts? Should we experiment more with blogging as a way to build and publish books? If so, how can everyone make some money along the way?

Comments

Brad Hill

I've wondered the same thing. Phil Gyford is putting the diary of Samuel Pepys into a blog. January 1, 1660 was posted on January 1, 2003, and it has run from that point. (http://www.pepysdiary.com/) It is densely annotated with links, and surrounded by discussion forums and historical assistance. What a remarkable product! Tremendously educational and entertaining, and, when you think about it, an entirely new genre. It was this project that first got me wondering about presenting an original book on a blogging platform.

Joe, why wait until the work is finished to set up subscriptions? It seems to me that just the opposite is the way to go: accept subscriptions from the start. Isn't that how people would prefer to buy/read it, paying as they go? I can definitely see a soap-opera piece presented like this. It doesn't need to ever end, when you think about it ... the assumption of an ending is book-think. Blogs don't have natural endings, and neither do soap operas.

Thinking out loud here, but I like what's coming together. A blogged soap opera, possibly a group blog with various characters doing the writing. OR!-- even better, a network of linked blogs, each written by a character. But, to keep it simple, one blog telling an endless dramatic story. Subscriptions, advertising, and sponsorship (a TV network?) each seems like a possibility.

You mentioned that a great e-book product needs to be developed with the e-book format in mind. By the same token, a great blog product shouldn't be regarded as a mutated book. I do think the blog platform can be used to present episodic fiction. (Most blogs already present episodic nonfiction.) Have you seen The Darth Side: Memoirs of a Monster? (http://darthside.blogspot.com/) It is Darth Vader's blog. It is hilarious and imaginative.

Dave Taylor

I was with you, Joe, until you pointed out that "As with most blogs, the material is written in bite-size pieces, not lengthy chapters. This would force authors to be concise, making the reading experience more effective and efficient."

That's the problem with this entire idea, in my mind. I buy books because I want to enjoy the deep, thought-out positions of the authors and their insight into the topic. If blogged-books are inevitably going to mean that they'll be dozens of short chapters, then I think that there'll be less thought, less coherent vision, less strategic thinking present.

When I write book, be they technical or business, I aim to write 15-25 pages on a specific topic, something that's the antithesis of "short blog-like postings".

A few authors can pull this writing style off. Marvin Minsky with "The Society of Mind", Tom Peters with "re:imagine", but they're rare.

This reminds me of the change in writing that happened when people moved to word processors and computers from typewriters and handwritten notes, especially students. Instead of well-thought-out papers, writing devolved to being a loosely strung series of sentences that only sporadically have a larger point to make.

Joe Wikert

Thanks for the feedback, Brad. I would love to have something like this start as a subscription, but I worry that it will limit the visibility and community involvement. That's why I suggested it would start free and open, eventually becoming a closed/subscription system.

Dave, my post is really intended as a starting point for suggestions. I personally prefer shorter content entries, but I realize others have a different point of view. As the author, you could certainly make your entries longer, especially if you felt that's what your readers want. Or, you could take a page out of an earlier post I made about layered content ( see http://jwikert.typepad.com/the_average_joe/2005/03/tinkering_with_.html ); this would allow you to take advantage of the delivery mode (e-book) and offer depth flexibility for the reader.

Jozef Imrich

A wave will rise on quiet water, and when it happens publishers who are creative will catch the best waves with all the rewards. Sponsors and advertisers will discover craigslist-wise innovation in the publishing world ...

Robert J. Ambrogi has an essay entitled Blogging and the Bottom Line: Why blogging and syndication are the hottest tools in legal marketing Blogging and the Bottom Line

Rafael Sidi

Joe, how about a hybrid solution with subscription and ad revenues?

Joe Wikert

Hi Rafael. Yes, a hybrid solution is a great idea. I was also wondering if you could mix in some context sensitive news feeds. It would be like Google's AdSense program, but instead of showing ads, you'd see news items related to the topics you're reading about. That might be harder to monetize, but it's an interesting added value to the customer. By all means, though, I think traditional site advertising and/or Google's AdSense program would be great ways to help drive more revenue.

Owen

Take a look at a hybrid that is more along the book side of things - Digital Dish is a real book - out now - that is a compilation of the best writing and recipes from 24 different food blogs around the world. It is organized chronologically by post and really keeps the feel of the blog alive.

Smith

yeah as a business man i totally agree that blogging is giving you a platform to discuss about your any problem and also get solution for it about tour promotion . thanks

Djelloul Marbrook

Dear Joe,
I do think the blog is rapidly evolving into a literary form. Just as truly sophisticated hand-helds would help
the e-book, so improved software would benefit blogging. For example, I use WordPress, helpful but far from glitch-free.

As for publishing in general, my take is that technology is running ahead of available business models. The big six traditional publishing houses, which are the creatures of diversified conglomerates, are fighting a rearguard action against such technologies as print-on-demand, making the hypocritical case that a blow is being dealt literature because the editorial gatekeeping function is absent in POD. I say hypocritical, because an industry that itself publishes so much demonstrable and poorly edited crap is hardly in a position to cry foul.

I have the sense that publishing is now a great cauldron, and no one knows exactly what will emerge. I think the e-book will flourish, but I hardly think the Gutenberg book as an object of art will perish.

I launched my own blog as a way to promote my novel, Saraceno, but as I began developing it I realized that the process would be rather like learning how to write poetry when I was a young man. I have a great deal to learn and the form itself is going to teach me.

Sincerely,
Djelloul Marbrook

Joe Wikert

Hi Djelloul. Thanks for your comments. Btw, I wouldn't say the larger publishing houses are fighting technologies like print on demand (POD). For example, I know my group and probably every other group within Wiley uses POD to make sure older books can remain available to anyone who needs them. If you're saying that the larger publishers are against the self-publishing operations, I'd say they consider them a competitor, much like they consider the other large publishers competitors.

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