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April 25 2012

As transmedia publishing evolves, experimentation is the name of the game

This post is part of the TOC podcast series. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.


Transmedia publishing is a phrase that means different things to different people. In this interview with Verane Pick (@veranepick), co-founder and artistic director at Counter Intelligence Media, we get an up-close look at what's involved in a transmedia operation and how they use the agile development approach to keep inventing new products.

Key points from the full video interview (below) include:

  • Transmedia at the heart — Counter Intelligence Media is a transmedia publishing company and is working on finding new ways to tell stories in the digital world. [Discussed at the 00:42 mark.]
  • The rules have yet to be written — Transmedia is a rapidly evolving area and there's no "right" way of producing this rich content. Experimentation is the name of the game. [Discussed at 2:14.]
  • Does repurposed content have a role? — Whether it's a digital-first or repurposed content approach, the most important thing to do is first think about the medium and how you want to leverage it. [Discussed at 2:50.]
  • Using agile in practice — Counter Intelligence Media uses small, independent, highly collaborative teams to create their products. The agile model makes the most sense for them because of all the experimentation and the need to make many adjustments along the way. [Discussed at 6:59.]
  • App + ebooksApocalepsy 911 was an "MVP," or "minimum viable product" in the agile world, for Counter Intelligence Media and serves as the foundation for their larger platform. [Discussed at 9:43.]
  • Serial publishing — Pick likens their use of serial publishing to a set of Russian nested dolls where all the different layers must be properly aligned. [Discussed at 13:27.]
  • Gaming mechanisms to come — Game techniques will become one of the "engagement silos" in a future Counter Intelligence Media product. Stay tuned for more details ... [Discussed at 14:58.]

You can view the entire interview in the following video.

The future of publishing has a busy schedule.
Stay up to date with Tools of Change for Publishing events, publications, research and resources. Visit us at oreilly.com/toc.

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February 23 2012

Agile for real-world publishing

At TOC, you're as likely to run into media professionals, entrepreneurs and innovators as you are publishers, booksellers and others working in traditional publishing. This, in turn, makes the underlying themes as varying and diverse as the attendees. This is the first in a series, taking a look at five themes that permeated interviews, sessions and/or keynotes at this year's show. The complete series will be posted here.


Agile publishing, in terms of workflow, work environment as well as practical publishing applications was one of the overriding themes at this year's TOC.

Kristen McLean (@ABCKristen), founder and CEO of Bookigee, addressed agile in her session Hippo In Ballet Shoes, Or Greyhound On The Track? Applying Agile Methodologies To Traditional Publishing. She talked about how agile is a workflow strategy and cited "The Agile Manifesto":

AgileManifesto.jpg

She also discussed what the agile environment looks like in real-world publishing. Some highlights from her discussion include:

  • Self-organizing teams with flexible skills — get highly talented and interdisciplinary individuals
  • Accountability & empowerment — Give them what they need and trust them to get the work done.
  • Sustainable development, able to maintain a constant pace — each person should be able to commit only to what they can do in a day, a week, or a production cycle. Cut back features in order to deliver on time.
  • Face-to-face conversation is the best form of communication (co-location) — put the entire team in one place.
  • Completed tasks are delivered frequently — weeks rather than months
  • Completed tasks are the principal measure of progress — focus on real stuff, not on rituals, documentation, or other internal benchmarks that do nothing for your customer.

McLean's presentation slides can be found here, and an interview with McLean on some of the finer points of agile can be found here.

Firebrand Technologies' communications chief Laura Dawson (@ljndawson) held a session on metadata, Metadata is Not a Thing, that reinforced some of these ideas, in that an agile publishing environment requires solid metadata through every phase of the publishing process. Dawson talked more about metadata and workflows in a video interview:

The agile theme flowed in a practical direction in the Real World Agile Publishing session with Joe Wikert (@jwikert) of O'Reilly Media and Dominique Raccah (@draccah) of Sourcebooks, and moderator Brett Sandusky (@bsandusky) of Macmillan New Ventures.

Wikert talked about a variety of agile publishing projects at O'Reilly, including current book projects such as Todd Sattersten's "Every Book Is a Startup," which is based on a model of frequent updates to build content and dynamic pricing, and Peter Meyers' Breaking the Page, which is based on a freemium model. He also addressed other styles of agile publishing O'Reilly has experimented with, including early release projects and rough cuts, which offer early digital access and flat pricing. Wikert touched on short form content publishing as well, which he said allows for a quick turnaround to publish minimum viable products on cutting-edge topics.

Raccah announced that Sourcebooks would be using an agile publishing model to publish an upcoming book, "Entering the Shift Age," by David Houle. She outlined three goals for the model — more efficient product development, a better author experience, and more timely/updated books — and listed six guiding principles of agile publishing:

AgileGuidingPrinciples.PNG

Wikert's presentation slides can be viewed here, and Raccah's can be viewed here.

In a separate video interview, Sandusky addressed a question about whether agile applies universally to all types of books:

"'Books' is the part that I have a little bit of a problem with — I think agile applies universally to all kinds of digital product development. That could include books; that could include traditional print books with a POD component; that could include many different types of digital products. 'Books,' in terms of the traditional model of 'build a print book, take it to manufacturing, and then take it to launch' is not an agile process. But if your workflow is more digitally focused, then I think it applies to all digital products overall."

Also in a video interview, Todd Sattersten (@toddsattersten), author of "Every Book is a Startup" and founder of BizBookLab, addressed a question about how publishers can apply agile development methods:

"I'm interested in how we take the concept of a minimum viable product and apply it to how we develop content. The problem with books is that we tend to believe they have to be big and long and carefully constructed. With minimum viable product, it's really the exact opposite — what is the smallest amount that we have to do? It could be just putting up a splash page and saying, "Are you interested enough in this idea to share an address?" We're very familiar in book publishing with the idea of pre-sales — why not sell a book before we actually invest a whole bunch of money in producing the book?"


If you couldn't make it to TOC, or you missed a session you wanted to see, sign up for the TOC 2012 Complete Video Compilation and check out our archive of free keynotes and interviews.


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Reposted byRKvitaminb

February 01 2012

With GOV.UK, British government redefines the online government platform

The British Government has launched a beta of its GOV.UK platform, testing a single domain for that could be used throughout government. The new single government domain will eventually replace Directgov, the UK government portal which launched back in 2004. GOV.UK is aimed squarely as delivering faster digital services to citizens through a much improved user interface at decreased cost.

Unfortunately, far too often .gov websites cost millions and don't deliver as needed. GOV.UK is mobile-friendly, platform agnostic, uses HTML5, scalable, open source, hosted in the cloud and open for feedback. Those criteria collectively embody the default for how government should approach their online efforts in the 21st century.

gov.uk screenshot

“Digital public services should be easy to find and simple to use - they must also be cost effective and SME-friendly," said Francis Maude, the British Minister for the Cabinet Office, in a prepared statement. "The beta release of a single domain takes us one step closer to this goal."

Tom Loosemore, deputy director of government digital service at UK Government, introduced the beta of GOV.UK at the Government Digital Service blog, including a great deal of context on its development and history. Over at the Financial Times Tech blog, Tim Bradshaw published an excellent review of the GOV.UK beta.

As Bradshaw highlights, what's notable about the new beta is not just the site itself but the team and culture behind it: that of a large startup, not the more ponderous bureaucracy of Whitehall, the traditional "analogue" institution..

GOV.UK is a watershed in how government approaches Web design, both in terms of what you see online and how it was developed. The British team of developers, designers and managers behind the platform collaboratively built GOV.UK in-house using agile development and the kind of iterative processes one generally only sees in modern Web design shops. Given that this platform is designed to serve as a common online architecture for the government of the United Kingdom, that's meaningful.

“Our approach is changing," said Maude. "IT needs to be commissioned or rented, rather than procured in huge, expensive contracts of long duration. We are embracing new, cloud-based start-ups and enterprise companies and this will bring benefits for small and medium sized enterprises here in the UK and so contribute to growth.”

The designers of GOV.UK, in fact, specifically describe it as "government as a platform," in terms of something that others can build upon. It was open from the start, given that the new site was built entirely using open source tools. The code behind GOV.UK has been released as open source code on GitHub.

"For me, this platform is all about putting the user needs first in the delivery of public services online in the UK," said Mike Bracken, executive director of government digital services. Bracken is the former director of digital development at the Guardian News and Media and was involved in setting up MySociety. "For too long, user need has been trumped by internal demands, existing technology choices and restrictive procurement practices. Gov.uk puts user need firmly in charge of all our digital thinking, and about time too."

The Gov.UK stack

Reached via email, Bracken explained more about the technology choices that have gone into GOV.UK, starting with the platform diagram below.

gov.uk screenshot

Why create an open source stack? "Why not?" asked Bracken."It's a government platform, and as such it belongs to us all and we want people to contribute and share in its development."

While many local, state and federal sites in the United States have chosen to adapt and use Wordpress or Drupal as open government platforms, the UK team started with afresh.

"Much of the code is based on our earlier alpha, which we launched in May last year as an early prototype for a single platform," said Bracken. "We learnt from the journey, and rewrote some key components recently, one key element of the prototype in scale."

According to Bracken, the budget for the beta is £1.7 million pounds, which they are running under at present. (By way of contrast, the open government reboot of FCC.gov was estimated to cost 1.35 million dollars.) There are about 40 developers coding on GOV.UK, said Bracken, but the entire Government Digital Service has around 120 staff, with up to 1800 external testers. They also used several external development houses to complement their team, some for only two weeks at a time.

Why build an entirely new open government platform? "It works," said Bracken. "It's inherently flexible, best of breed and completely modular. And it doesn't require any software licenses."

Bracken believes that the GOV.UK will give the British government agility, flexibility and freedom to change as they go, which are, as he noted not characteristics aligned with the usual technology build in the UK -- or elsewhere, for that matter.

Given the British government's ambitious plans for open data, the GOV.UK platform also will need to be act as, well, a platform. On that count, they're still planning, not implementing.

"With regard to API's, our long term plan is to 'go wholesale,' by which we mean expose data and services via API's," said Bracken. "We are at the early stages of mapping out key attributes, particularly around identity services, so to be fair it's early days yet. The inherent flexibility does allow for us to accommodate future changes, but it would be premature to make substantial claims to back up API delivery at this point."

The GOV.UK platform will be adaptable for the purposes of city government as well, over time. "We aim to migrate key department sites onto it in the first period of migration, and then look at government agencies," said Bracken. "The migration, with over 400 domains to review, will take more than a year. We aim to offer various platform services which meet the needs of all Government service providers."

Making GOV.UK citizen-centric

The GOV.UK platform was also designed to be citizen-centric, keeping the tasks that people come to a government site to accomplish in mind. Its designers, apparently amply supplied with classic British humor, dubbed the engine that tracks them the "Needotron."

"We didn't just identify top needs," said Loosemore, via email. "We built a machine to manage them for us now and in the future. Currently there are 667!" Loosemore said that they've open sourced the Needotron code, for those interested in tracking needs of their own.

"There are some of the Top needs we've not got to properly yet," said Loosemore. "For example, job search is still sub-optimal, as is the stuff to do with losing your passport."

According to Loosemore, some the top needs that citizens have when they come to a site in the UK are determining the minimum wage, learning when the public and bank holidays are or when the clocks change for British Summer Time. They also come to central government to pay their council tax, which is actually a local function, but GOV.UK is designed to route those users to the correct site using geolocation.

This beta will have the top 1000 things you would need to do government, said Maude, speaking at the Sunlight Foundation this week. (If that's so, there's over 300 more yet to go.)

"There's massive change needed in our approach to how to digitize what we do," he said. "Instead of locking in with a massive supplier, we need to be thinking of it the other way around. What do people need from government? Work from the outside in and redesign processes."

In his comments, Maude emphasized the importance of citizen-centricity, with respect to interfaces. We don't need to educate people on how to use a service, he said. We need to educate government on how to serve the citizen.

"Like U.S., the U.K. has a huge budget deficit," he said. "The public expects to be able to transact with government in a cheap, easy way. This enables them to do it in a cheaper, easier way, with choices. It's not about cutting 10 or 20% from the cost but how to do it for 10 or 20% of the total cost."

The tech behind Gov.UK

James Stewart, who was the tech lead on the beta of GOV.UK, recently blogged about and browser support. He emailed me the following breakdown of the rest of the technology behind GOV.UK.

Hosting and Infrastructure:

  • DNS hosted by Dyn.com
  • Servers are Amazon EC2 instances running Ubuntu 10.04LTS
  • Email (internal alerts) sending via Amazon SES and Gmail
  • Miscellaneous file storage on Amazon S3
  • Jetty application server
  • Nginx, Apache and mod_passenger
  • Jenkins continuous integration server
  • Caching by Varnish
  • Configuration management using Puppet

Front end

  • Javascript uses jQuery, jQuery UI, Chosen, and a variety of other plugins
  • Gill Sans, provided by fonts.com
  • Google web font loader

Languages, Frameworks and Plugins

"Most of the application code is written in Ruby, running on a mixture of Rails and Sinatra," said Stewart. "Rails and Sinatra gave us the right balance of productivity and clean code, and were well known to the team we've assembled. We've used a range of gems along with these, full details of which can be found in the Gemfiles at Github.com/alphagov."

The router for GOV.UK is written in Scala and uses Scalatra for its internal API, said Stewart. "The router distributes requests to the appropriate backend apps, allowing us to keep individual apps very focused on a particular problem without exposing that to visitors," said Stewart. "We did a bake-off between a ruby implementation and a Scala implementation and were convinced that the Scala version was better able to handle the high level of concurrency this app will require."

Databases

  • MongoDB. "We started out building everything using MySQL but moved to MongoDB as we realised how much of our content fitted its document-centric approach," said Stewart. "Over time we've been more and more impressed with it and expect to increase our usage of it in the future."
  • MySQL, hosted using Amazon's RDS platform. "Some of the data we need to store is still essentially relational and we use MySQL to store that," said Stewart. "Amazon RDS takes away many of the scaling and resilience concerns we had with that, without requiring changes to our application code."
  • MaPit geocoding and information service from mySociety. "MaPit not only does conventional geocoding, " said Stewart, in terms of determining what the given the longitude or latitude is for a postcode, but " italso gives us details of all the local government areas a postcode is in, which lets us point visitors to relevant local services."

Collaboration tools

gov.uk screenshot

  • Campfire for team chat
  • Google Apps
  • MediaWiki
  • Pivotal Tracker
  • Many, many index cards.

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January 10 2012

How agile methodologies can help publishers

Agile methodologies originated in the software space, but Bookigee CEO Kristen McLean (@ABCKristen) believes many of the same techniques can also be applied to content development and publishing workflows. She explains why in the following interview.

McLean will further explore this topic during her agile methodologies presentation at the upcoming Tools of Change for Publishing conference in New York.

What is an agile methodology?

KristenMcLean.jpgKristen McLean: An agile methodology is a series of strategies for managing projects and processes that emphasize quick creative cycles, flat self-organizing working groups, the breaking down of complex tasks into smaller achievable goals, and the presumption that you don't always know what the finished product will be when you begin the process.

These types of methodologies work particularly well in any situation where you are trying to produce a creative product to meet a market that is evolving — like a new piece of software when the core concept needs proof from the user to evolve — or where there needs to be a very direct and engaged relationship between the producers and users of a particular product or service.

Agile methodologies emerged out of the software development community in the 1970s, but began to really codify in the 1990s with the rise of several types of "lightweight" methods such as SCRUM, Extreme Programming, and Adaptive Software Development. These were all rolled up under the umbrella of agile in 2001, when a group of developers came together to create the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, which set the core principles for this type of working philosophy.

Since then, agile has been applied outside of software development to many different kinds of systems management. Most promote development, teamwork, collaboration, and process adaptability throughout the life-cycle of the project. At the end of the day, it's about getting something out there that we can test and learn from.

How do agile methodologies apply to publishing?

Kristen McLean: In relation to publishing, we're really talking about two things: agile content development and agile workflow.

Agile content development is the idea that we may be able to apply these methodologies to creating content in a very different way than we are traditionally used to. This could mean anything from serialized book content to frequent releases of digital content, like book-related websites, apps, games and more. The discussion of how agile might be applied to traditional book content is just beginning, and I think there's an open-ended question about how it might intersect with the deeply personal — and not always quick — process of writing a book.

I don't believe some of our greatest works could have been written in an agile framework (think Hemingway, Roth, or Franzen), but I also believe agile might lend itself to certain kinds of book content, like serial fiction (romance, YA, mystery) and some kinds of non-fiction. The real question has to do with what exactly a "book" is and understanding the leading edge between knowing your audience and crowdsourcing your material.

Publishing houses have been inherently hierarchical because they've been organized around a manufacturing process wherein a book's creation has been treated as though it's on an assembly line. The publisher and editor have typically been the arbiters of content, and as a whole, publishers have not really cultivated a direct relationship with end users. Publishers make. Users buy/read/share, etc.

Publishers need to adapt to a radically different way of working. For example, here's a few ways agile strategies could help with the adaptation of a publishing workflow:

  • Create flat, flexible teams of four to five super-talented individuals with a collective skill set — including editorial, marketing, publicity, production, digital/design, and business — all working together from the moment of acquisition (or maybe before). These teams would need to be completely fluent in XHTML and would work under the supervision of a managing publisher whose job would be to create the proper environment and remove impediments so the team could do its job.
  • An original creative voice and unique point of view will always be important in great writing, but those of us who produce books as trade objects (and package the content in them) have to stop assuming we know what the market wants and start talking to the market as frequently as possible.


  • Use forward-facing data and feedback to project future sales. Stop using past sales as the exclusive way to project future sales. The market is moving too fast for that, and we all know there is a diminishing return for the same old, same old.

TOC NY 2012 — O'Reilly's TOC Conference, being held Feb. 13-15, 2012, in New York City, is where the publishing and tech industries converge. Practitioners and executives from both camps will share what they've learned and join together to navigate publishing's ongoing transformation.

Register to attend TOC 2012

This interview was edited and condensed.

Associated photo on home and category pages adapted from: Agile-Software-Development-Poster-En.pdf by Dbenson and VersionOne, Inc., on Wikimedia Commons

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August 24 2011

BookRiff: A marketplace for curators

BookRiffLogo.jpgEver want to compile your own cookbook, travel guide or textbook? Has your publisher edited out sections of your book you'd like to share with interested readers? Publishing startup BookRiff aims to solve these problems by creating new ways to access and compile content.

In the following interview, Rochelle Grayson, CEO of BookRiff, talks about how BookRiff works and how it can benefit publishers and consumers. She says her company is based on an open market concept, allowing publishers to sell the content they want at prices they set and consumers to buy and customize that content as they see fit.

BookRiff will be featured in the next TOC Sneak Peek webcast on August 25.

What is a "Riff"?

RochelleGrayson.jpgRochelle Grayson: A Riff is a remix of chapters from published books, essays, articles, or even one's own content. The concept behind BookRiff is to create an online platform that allows consumers and publishers to remix and to resell content, while ensuring that all original content owners and contributors get paid.

Who is the target audience for BookRiff?

Rochelle Grayson: BookRiff's target audience is "domain experts" who can curate — and perhaps even create — content that is of interest to a specific reading audience. This could include things like cookbooks, travel guides, extended "authors editions," and custom textbooks.

Can curators make their compilations (Riffs) available for purchase? If so, what's the cut? And how is money divvied up to the content owners?

Rochelle Grayson: Absolutely — in fact, we encourage curators to post and to market their Riffs to their social networks, audiences, and so forth. We have built ways for them to easily share their Riffs through these social channels, and we are building widgets to allow curators to promote their Riffs through their own websites and blogs.

In terms of the business model, we follow a standard agency business model, where the content owners set the price of the content and we split the revenues with them 30/70 — 30% goes to BookRiff, 70% goes to the content owners. For curators, or Riffers, we also have a Riffer commission, which is set by the content owner — we recommend a minimum of 5%. This means that when a Riffer sells a Riff, he would receive 5% of that content piece's price (or whatever % the content owner has agreed to pay). Assuming that every content owner in a Riff has agreed to 5%, the Riffer would receive 5% from the total sale price of the Riff, and BookRiff and the content owners would then split the remaining 95%, 30/70 as outlined above.

Can edits be made after a Riff is published?

Rochelle Grayson: Yes, once a Riff is published it can be "retired" and a new version with new edits can be uploaded to the system and sold. However, consumers who have purchased an earlier version will only have access to that earlier version. That said, the content owner can also sell the "edits" or "updates" separately to previous purchasers for an incremental price.

As a reader, how do I access a Riff?

Rochelle Grayson: During the purchase process, readers select the appropriate digital file for the ereader or application of their choice. Our files will be compatible with the Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Adobe Digital Edition, as well as other ereading systems that support Adobe DRM. If the content is not DRM'd, as decided by the content owner, the Riff will be a standard EPUB file and will work on any ereader system that supports the EPUB format.

As a reader, can I share Riffs I purchase with other people?

Rochelle Grayson: At this time, we do not offer sharing for DRM'd Riffs. However, we are looking into ways of enabling this that work well for both content owners and readers. Non-DRM'd files, though, can be shared.

Can you share your launch schedule?

Rochelle Grayson: We will be launching at the end of September.

Expanding this a bit: Are we in a golden age for curators? And if so, how do you see curation evolving over the next five years?

Rochelle Grayson: It's definitely a golden age for curators. Over the next five years, the amount of published information will increase exponentially. It will become more difficult for readers to assess and to evaluate the quality and the relevance of a growing database of content. BookRiff aims to enable curators to participate in both the editorial and marketing process and to provide a valuable service as a human filter.

We want to facilitate a new kind of curatorial publishing that will reward not only the content owners and authors, but also the tastemakers and marketers who can further promote the most relevant content to broader and more distributed audiences. Social ecommerce, social marketing, and sharing are becoming critical to the success of any content marketplace.

What do you think is more important, access or ownership?

Rochelle Grayson: Our model is based on access to the specific content you want. We believe an open marketplace that allows publishers to sell their content at prices they set and also allows consumers to purchase and customize that content is a critical piece to making access ubiquitous. If consumers have access to purchased content whenever and wherever they want it, it may change the definition and expectations associated with "ownership."

This interview was edited and condensed.

Webcast: TOC Sneak Peek at BookRiff, LiquidText, and MagAppZine — Sneak Peeks are a TOC webcast series featuring a behind-the-scenes look at publishing start-ups and their products. Our next episode will feature presentations from BookRiff, LiquidText, and MagAppZine.

Join us on Thursday, August 25, 2011, at 10 am PT
Register for this free webcast




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July 25 2011

What publishing can learn from tech startups

Todd Sattersten (@toddsattersten), founder of BizBookLab, argues in his new book "Every Book Is a Startup" that authors and publishers need to be more entrepreneurial and treat each book like a startup business. His conviction on this point is so strong that he's using the startup model itself to publish his new title. In the interview below, I talk with Todd about the specifics of the model and how he's applying it.

What parts of the traditional publishing model are limiting opportunities?

ToddSattersten.jpgTodd Sattersten: There are several things that limit opportunities. Most traditional books take two years to write, publish, and distribute, and risk increases with time. Editors ask themselves more often today, “Will the point of view presented still be applicable and relevant?”

Additionally, product marketing as a business practice has evolved, while books continue to be published as a singular product without regard for alternate use cases and price points. For example, only the biggest of bestsellers warrants a premium edition. Enormous opportunity lies in versioning.

Your personal definition for a "book" can limit your opportunities as well. If you limit that definition to, say, 224 pages of paper in a 6-inch-by-9-inch trim size, you just made your world a pretty small one.

miniTOC Portland — Being held on Wednesday, July 27, 2011, miniTOC Portland will bring together art, business, craft and technology leaders for a day of collaboration in Portland, Ore.

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How does your book map out the new publishing model?

Todd Sattersten: My argument starts with the idea that entrepreneurship needs to be brought back to book publishing. As an industry, we introduced over 3 million new products to the marketplace in 2010. Each one of those books start in the same place: in search of an audience. Startups face the same problem.

The core set of ideas I plan to present will look familiar to people who work in publishing. The way I approach them will be very different. I dispel some myths and identify some trends that are important to understand as we search for new business models.

What kinds of tech startup concepts can be applied to publishing practices?

Todd Sattersten: Publishing uses what the technology folks call the waterfall method of development. The process starts with a set of requirements. The functions are stacked next to each other, and the work is handed off in a serial fashion until the requirements are complete and the project is ready to be launched. In the world of books, this starts with the proposal and ends with the finished book on the shelf.

The startup community has abandoned the waterfall method for a different process called agile development. The process starts with direct feedback from the customer about what they want. Work is released over the course of weeks or even days. And most importantly, the team collaborates through the iterative process with product managers, programmers, testers and operation folks all at the table throughout.

For a startup, the first iteration of the agile process is the minimum viable product. What is the absolute smallest feature set that can be introduced to the market so that the company can gather feedback from real customers? The initial release emphasizes learning and iterating, adding what is needed as the customer base grows.

I am not going to suggest that every book can follow this path, but there are plenty of examples where it works. How many books start as magazine articles or short stories? Chris Anderson's cover stories in Wired magazine preceded by two years "The Long Tail," "Free," and his upcoming book "The New Industrial Revolution." Vanessa Veselka's new book "Zazen" was serialized twice — on her blog and then in Arthur Magazine — before being published by Richard Nash's new publishing company Red Lemonade. When the work is released into the world, readers have the opportunity to interact with it. Holding onto an idea only increases the risk that no one will be there when it is finally released.

SatterstenBookCover.gifHow are you applying startup techniques to your book launch?

Todd Sattersten: We are using the minimum viable product concept with this project. The initial release of the book comes with two core ideas — “Black Swans and Long Tails” and “Help the Heroes.” At the end of the current release, I ask the readers to give us feedback on the quality of the material and what they would like to see next. I have set up a site at Get Satisfaction to let everyone contribute and interact with the evolution of the book.

We are also using a dynamic pricing structure for the book. The initial price is $4.99, and we will raise the price as more material is added. What is particularly interesting is that once a reader buys it, he or she will get all future updates at no additional cost. So, the sooner you buy, the more value you get and the more opportunity you get to shape future releases.

I love that we are taking the very ideas that we talk about in the book and applying them to the business model of the project itself. We need to be trying more experiments like this in publishing.

Are there aspects of a tech startup that don't apply to the publishing side?

Todd Sattersten: Yes — first, a book has a limited life cycle. The majority of revenue is earned in the first three to five years. There would be a weak business case for enlisting angels and venture capitalists to invest capital in exchange for equity. Startups have longer runways and higher revenue potential.

Startups also normally have more than one founder, and they focus on different aspects of making their fledgling business successful. Books lack this strength in numbers, as most are written by one person with expertise in their subject area, not the inner workings of book publishing. This inexperience forces them to find their own way and their own market, and it limits the potential of many books.

Finally, startups can change their business models and pivot toward more successful configurations. The business model for a book is defined when the contract is signed — the product is largely defined, revenue splits are determined, and the distribution capability is known.

This interview was edited and condensed.



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