This month’s Wired features an article by Chris Anderson of TED (not to be confused with editor-in-chief Chris Anderson) on what he calls Crowd Accelerated Innovation. It follows Clay Shirky’s thesis that the massive increase in online access for communities of variant sizes brings changes in kind, not just degree. Anderson uses dance as an example, pointing to rapid advancement of style and new moves once online video became ubiquitous (in the first world, but still): thanks to YouTube, six year olds can memorize moves by bleeding-edge choreographers.
Here’s his own TED talk about it:
Now, he stresses the importance of online video to this development. He saw TED talks get better as speakers reviewed past highlights and worked to advance the format.
While this is all well and good, and overlaps plenty with Steven Johnson’s recent work, I’d like to investigate how Crowd Accelerated Innovation informs the ebook sector of trade publishing.
The key is that difference in kind: once we reach the next plateau in ebook reading – I hesitate to call it an equilibrium – where “big six” publishers, small presses, and self-published books compete in the same marketplace, there will be a protracted establishment of the new rules of the game in terms of discoverability.
We’ll see surprises in the ebook sales charts as underdog titles reach a quorum of readers in previously unheralded sectors. Maybe it’s a large business bypassing the usual corporate sales channel and emailing its employees to buy title X on the Kindle. Or perhaps a group of influential booksellers rally behind a debut novel, and the resulting Google eBookstore sales through the indies’ ecommerce sites (like WORD Brooklyn‘s) rockets it to the top in an otherwise quiet week.
In short, publishers have spent decades practicing how to get a book on the print bestseller list. Nobody has any best practices on how to do this with ebooks. (Though Timothy Ferriss is doing something right.)
Putting aside the marketing question for a second, let’s go back to the innovation side of Anderson’s idea. Will the sea changes in publishing wrought by ebooks make books better? It’s a question nobody’s really asked yet. What do you think?