Crowdsourced content selection: the future of publishing?

Paul Raven @ 15-09-2011

No, not here. (Well, not yet, anyway.) Social media news network Mashable has a guest piece from Molly Barton, president of Book Country, an online community for genre fiction writers that’s trying to change the way stories get picked for publication. As with most such projects, there’s a strong egalitarian undertone:

In the modern world of broadcast and publisher media, the traditional model relies on a series of individuals reading and choosing which stories will appeal to broad audiences. These gatekeepers evaluate commercial and literary potential based on books that have previously succeeded. Daring stories that push boundaries and bend categories may be passed over because they are more difficult to market. But the tastes of readers and viewers often progresses more quickly than the stories readily available to them reflect.

But what if we created lots of little fires around which writers could tell their stories and gauge the reaction of a keen audience, improving their storytelling before bumping up against the traditional media filter? Would we get more interesting stories? Could we uncover a new group of brilliant creators who might not have connections to those gatekeepers?

They’re not just about raising up the passed-over, however; the proliferation and evolution of new genres is also part of the plan:

When Neuromancer was published in 1984, the genre called “cyberpunk” did not exist. Until Michael Crichton introduced us to The Andromeda Strain in 1969, the “environmental thriller” was but a category of stories waiting to be told. By expanding the process through which stories are found, we give those who are passionate about new kinds of stories the opportunity to influence, and in so doing, increase the likelihood that new genres and sub-genres of stories will develop and find eager waiting audiences.

Community curation, proliferation of niche verticals… lots of theories that (if you’ve been following along) we’ve bumped into here in the past, then. If you’re wondering what the business model is, Book Country is a subsidiary of the Penguin Group, so one assumes this is an experiment toward replacing the old acquisitions system, though the FAQ states that “Book Country is not a channel for the submission of unsolicited manuscripts to Penguin editors”. How the project is monetised remains unclear, though it’s still in beta, so perhaps there are contextual ads waiting in the wings, or plans to charge for access; time to send some emails and do some research, methinks.

Is Book Country the future of publishing? Or will it be just another failed attempt to graft a “social” element onto an old system? Only time will tell… but it’s good to see the industry trying new ideas instead of sitting around and wringing its hands as the landscape shifts beneath its feet.

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2 Responses to “Crowdsourced content selection: the future of publishing?”

  1. Sarah Brand says:

    I’ve seen this. The front page suggests that writers who post their work might be “discovered.” I’d be interested to know whether that’s actually happened to anyone.

  2. ConfidentlyDubious says:

    As a reader, I find the basic idea of Book Country very interesting. Reviewing a book is a task that requires some effort, but it seems to me that it could be a reasonable way to repay the effort of the writer who gave to me the possibility to read that book for free.
    However, I am not convinced at all by the way in which the published works can be accessed through Book Country. First, a web browser and a constantly active internet connection are required. Secondly, the text is displayed through a smallish window in the middle of the screen, with an excessively large font (actually three sizes are available: big, very big and VERY big). Downloading the text (e.g., to read it on your own ebook reader while on the bus) is strictly forbidden.
    These limitation are very detrimental to the enjoyment/careful reading of longish works of literature (Book Country seems to be focused on novels rather than short fiction). While of course careful reading is a key ingredient for meaningful reviews/critiques.
    Book Country says (in the FAQs) that they do this because “We’re very concerned with protecting your work and have taken numerous steps to make it very difficult for someone to copy or distribute your material”, but immediately after they state that “even our best efforts probably won’t stop someone who is absolutely determined to plagiarize someone else’s work.” So they seem to have set up a system to prevent plagiarism that strongly deters interested readers from joining in and/or participating, while it does not actually prevent plagiarism. Not a very wise move.