Conceptual open content

Bob Stein on ‘networked publishing’

Bob Stein over at the Future of the Book has written some very engaging summative notions around the challenges and opportunities afforded by ‘networked publishing’.

Stein charts the move from the multimedia model of the late 80s through to the mid 90s where CDROMs and closed ‘interactive media’ opened up new opportunities for readers but preserved the traditional borders of authorship and publishing along with their business models. However, now, as we all know, the web has exploded all of this.

Borders dissolve not only between author and reader but also between published works themselves, and with this, a century old business model evaporates. Published works, it should be noted, do not evaporate – they just circulate in a different environment – one in which their value is spread.

Stein gives this anecdote –

A mother in London recently described her ten-year old boy’s reading behavior: “He’ll be reading a (printed) book. He’ll put the book down and go to the book’s website. Then, he’ll check what other readers are writing in the forums, and maybe leave a message himself, then return to the book. He’ll put the book down again and google a query that’s occurred to him.” I’d like to suggest that we change our description of reading to include the full range of these activities, not just time spent looking at the printed page.

I would suggest that our museums need to take this into account when we think about an exhibition, a publication, an interactive kiosk, and our online materials. These behaviours are not just limited to books – and once the mobile web enters the mainstream at an attractive price point (in London right now I could add unlimited internet to my phone for GBP5/month) – this will be as much the pre/post visit experience as the in-gallery experience as well.

Stein notes –

An old-style formulation might be that publishers and editors serve the packaging and distribution of authors’ ideas. A new formulation might be that publishers and editors contribute to building a community that involves an author and a group of readers who are exploring a subject . . . So it turns out that far from becoming obsolete, publishers and editors in the networked era have a crucial role to play. The editor of the future is increasingly a producer, a role that includes signing up projects and overseeing all elements of production and distribution, and that of course includes building and nurturing communities of various demographics, size, and shape. Successful publishers will build brands around curatorial and community building know-how AND be really good at designing and developing the robust technical infrastructures that underlie a complex range of user experiences.

So how do we move to this more to these new roles and resourcing requirements to best be able to make the most of the new affordances of networked publishing?

There is not a ‘one size fits all’ model – we’ve been exploring this in the last few days of workshops here in London – but I think that museums would be well placed to look at the ways in which libraries have reconfigured and reinvented themselves in the age of information abundance; and also take a look at the way that ‘producers’ work in other media industries.