What is a Book? On Publishing, Books, and Video

Photo by Sam BR http://flic.kr/p/7MNugf

Seth Godin argued in a recent blog post that publishers need to revisit their assumptions about what “books” are…and by extension what their jobs entail. This is an important point, because it actually shows one potential way forward for an industry that is struggling to create value as its traditional business environment changes underfoot.

Book publishing, like the newspaper business, and the music business before it, is threatened by outmoded business models, new competitors, digital distribution, and the rise of substitutes for consumers. Barriers to creating and distributing a book have fallen so far that, as Clay Shirky says about publishing:

Publishing is not evolving. Publishing is going away. Because the word “publishing” means a cadre of professionals who are taking on the incredible difficulty and complexity and expense of making something public. That’s not a job anymore. That’s a button. There’s a button that says “publish,” and when you press it, it’s done.

So what does a savvy publisher do? Godin argues that publishers should redirect the curatorial, editorial, and marketing skills they have towards other projects that may not take the form of a traditional print book. He uses the short film “Caine’s Arcade” as an example.

Caine’s Arcade from Nirvan Mullick on Vimeo.


It’s worth noting that more people have spent ten minutes watching this film in the last week than have read all but a handful of books over the same period of time. And even more profoundly, that this short film has raised almost $200,000 for the star’s college fund without really trying.

Conceptually, this is a book.

…the act of finding Caine, of investing in a short film, of bringing that idea to the public–it’s stuff like that that publishers are actually quite good at–the format and the economics will change, but the risky act of bringing ideas to the public is what publishers do.

This is an important skill in a world where video is just as important as text. The creators of “The New Liberal Arts” argue that video literacy is one critical skillset for our era.

Basic literacy—reading and writing text—is no longer enough. Now, all media is transmitted through the window of a glowing screen. Television and web video have become dominant modes of communication and even print news media rely increasingly on video to show us “truth.” Understanding video is essential to participating in modern society.

The future of publishing may well involve scaling the ability to find, shape, and ship narrative-driven multimedia projects, which sounds a lot more like an emerging business than a dying one. All publishers should take a cue from Godin and ask themselves: What is a book?

Animanifesto: a burst of explanatory video

I started thinking when I saw this nice 3-minute infographic-y video perspective on “the future of computing,” via my bro at Crunchgear.


Trillions from MAYAnMAYA on Vimeo.

Interesting content, but I especially love the production – the way the animation matches up with the story-telling, conveying all the points more clearly by visualizing the metaphors. This is easy to do, but hard to do well, and they nail it here.

Question 1:
Is there a name for this type of short burst of video/animation with voiceover explanation or perspective of some sort? It’s not really interactive – it’s more one-way, like a manifesto. I lump videos like this together with the great Common Craft explanatory shorts and think of them all as pioneering a new type of manifesto production, the way ChangeThis was able to do for a variety of interesting content with their nicely-designed PDFs. I didn’t really “get” ChangeThis when it came out (and still don’t really), since it didn’t embrace the interactivity that the 2000s-era web enabled, but I do respect them for knowing their niche and focusing on it. Back to the videos – would it be terrible if I called these “animanifestos?” Google says 99 hits, so it sounds like it’s wide open territory, but of course that’s with SafeSearch on – God knows what I’d find if I turned it off.

Question 2:
What animation/design tools are the Trillions folks using? Are there custom tools that cater toward infographic-heavy static or animated production? If not, what might those tools incorporate? I could imagine some sort of deep Wolfram Alpha-like incorporation of data into the actual production tools that facilitate easy visual manipulation of information. I’m thinking at most basic a hopped-up PowerPoint/Excel…wait – now that I’m thinking about this, didn’t Hans Rosling’s Trendalyzer already get bought by Google? WHERE’S MY JET PACK?

End manifesto.

Found footage, surreal siren

Second in an apparently ongoing series of mine in which I post two things, one of which is a Lady Gaga video.

Like science fiction inspiring the direction of space research, we’ll soon have great video remixing tools to scan and search footage for patterns of dialogue and cadence. And it will all be due to this video:

Plus, as advertised, new over-the-top Lady GaGa. Fimoculous called it: she’s totally the new Matthew Barney. Concert in the Guggenheim? I would fly across the country.

Both via Fimoc.

Streetfilms: how-to videos for livable streets

This is a great concept – Streetfilms makes short, simple videos about what works and what isn’t working in urban transport. Their three-minute video on “bike corral” parking spaces in Portland turned a concept that might otherwise be buried in a dry urban planning white paper into an illuminating, compelling clip. I find there is something about seeing — not just reading about — real people talking about What Works Now that makes you want to take action. They have these in Portland — why not Vancouver?

It’s not just the content that’s compelling, but the company looks pretty interesting as well. Streetfilms is one arm of the Livable Streets Network, along with a platform for “streetbloggers” across the US, a wiki for best practices in transport planning, and what looks like a meetup-style groups tool. It’s like a more focused Worldchanging with a broader set of collaboration and story-telling tools. Worldchanging just announced that they are partnering with Livable Streets Network to syndicate WC-like content:

We’re excited to announce that we’re now partnering with the U.S.-based Streetsblog to help bring more attention to transportation and urban design issues issues. This open source site is dedicated to collecting opinions, stories and videos about new ideas and innovative designs that help us to use our thoroughfares more effectively. Though Streetsblog’s focus is largely on New York and other major U.S. cities, their work is informed by transportation developments around the globe.

Congrats — looks like a good match.