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New Wave Publishing: Innovation, New Creativity, and Jobs on the Horizon?

A New Wave is happening in publishing. Now I hear New Wave and think of the British invasion of the 80s. Today the new wave is happening in publishing in the U.S. And it may be that creative folks will not need the central publishing industries to reach their audiences. For the dream of interactive publishing is real. In one case some professors are getting short, powerful ideas out fast and making some money too. In another, a creative technologists have started a company in Shreveport, Louisiana, hired 20 people, and are selling some of the hottest things for iPads. Like all creative acts, not everyone will succeed. But that is true in all business too. The difference is that the barriers and old ideas of what a marketplace can handle are dropping. And what’s really cool is that folks are playing with new ideas and models to create great art and ideas, share, and earn all at the same time. For me, both cases show that ideas about what is and is not a market and where the latest and best high art or creative project will come from often miss the point. Open up the system and watch how people will create in new ways and even make some money too. Trying to hold onto the past and decrying the death of high art etc. as some do, simply misses the array of possibilities that lie before us.

More specifically, these examples make me think that some rather cool new text and opportunities are headed our way. As Richard Lanham noted in the Electronic Word almost 20 years ago, the standard linear text may give way to new forms. Like illuminated manuscripts we are seeing a new way of communicating. Hyperlinked, and how about animated, and I’d say even holographic, interactive text is coming. (I am guessing this stuff is occurring elsewhere, but the stories I have seen are U.S. So as always share what I am missing politely please.)

First, in professorland, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee’s Race Against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy, follows Tyler Cowan’s work released as an ebook, but I think Race Against the Machine is only available as an e-book. Although the ideas in the book, or rather as Hal Varian reminded me, monograph may fit its length, are interesting, I was intrigued by the ebook model. At $3.99 and as an electronic publication, the tightly written piece can be written as intended without bloat to justify a larger spine (yes that matters for shelf-space marketing). And I think the press is run such that the authors will receive a fair amount of the proceeds. I found that the hyperlinked citations worked rather well. I jumped out and then back into the piece as supported assertions drew me away from the text, but I wanted to go back quickly when done. All that on an iPhone Kindle App.

Second, the Atlantic’s How to Build the Pixar of the iPad Age in Shreveport, Louisiana demonstrates the promises of technology that Race Against the Machine offers in some ways. The word, book, fails to capture this work. As the article describes:

Their first project, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, was released for the iPad last May. It recounts the wondrous adventures of a book lover who dotingly cares for a living library before writing a book himself that tells of “his joys and sorrows, of all that he knew and everything that he hoped.” Gorgeously illustrated, Lessmore breaks new ground in the way that it incorporates interactivity. Each page has a wormhole of interaction. Read about a song and perhaps a keyboard will pop up and guide your fingers to plunk out “Pop Goes the Weasel.” When Morris Lessmore hand-feeds alphabet cereal to his books, the reader gets a bowl too, with letters that can be dragged along through the milk to spell out words. Each page holds its game like a secret and puzzling out what to do encourages the reader to look harder, knowing they’ll be rewarded. The games pull the reader deeper; the narrative pulls the reader farther. The tension between lingering and racing is potent.

It is technically an App! And it was the best-selling one for a bit too. That success has led the team to hire 20 people and become a small studio in this new medium.

And like the professors, these creators are doing what they want their way and kicking open new markets to boot. “There isn’t a huge market for animated shorts, certainly not the multibillions that can be reaped from a wide-release. If they’d wanted a world-class studio, they might have been forced to supersize their operations.” Technology like the iPad in this case is opening the door for folks to create and sell on their terms. They can “stay smaller, retain more creative control, and tell stories in new ways. They have faith that stories are more fundamental than technology, but that technology will enable a storytelling renaissance.”