It’s a mess out there, online. Even messier is the crowded field of literature on What These Changes Mean (or Why You Should Pay Me to Speak at Your Next Corporate Event). Here a few invaluable books I recommend for anyone assessing the bridges and fault lines between publishing and all things digital.
Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky
Essential reading for everyone working in publishing. Shirky walks the line of a populist academic: not too polemical or drenched in Gladwellspeak. In fact, what’s refreshing is how much Shirky resists faddish marketing to present clear analysis of the changes in our culture. It’s rare that a book like this stays relevant through its publication process, let alone years later. (For one mind-blowing morsel, try “Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality.” And more recently, “Gin, Television, and Cognitive Surplus.”)
Pattern Recognition by William Gibson
Did you know Sonic Youth wrote a song about this novel? Cool, right? Anyways. Great Dismal‘s first non-SF book resists classification, since the world has become science-fiction enough for this to be considered “general” fiction. Gibson’s concept of “the footage,” mysterious clips popping up online and leading a crowd-sourced ARG goose chase, is such a perfect evocation of our times it’s spooky. Also incredibly accurate.
Convergence Culture by Henry Jenkins
Want to know why film critics didn’t get the Matrix sequels? Or what makes “Survivor” fans hack satellite data to anticipate spoilers? Jenkins can tell you. A survey of the changes in how we perceive narratives and authorial ownership, this is a great primer to understanding how people are manipulating stories. And, in the case of “American Idol,” how we’re being manipulated in turn.
The Late Age of Print by Ted Striphas
Readers of this blog know about my repeated encomiums on this book. Like Jenkins, Striphas takes an academic’s view, leapfrogging others’ handicaps in either too romantic or too cynical an approach. Not only does this serve as a concise history of the publishing industry, but perfectly articulates how Oprah’s Book Club is so successful with readers. Hint: it’s pretty much the opposite of what publishers are doing.
Content: Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright, and the Future of the Future by Cory Doctorow
If you want to do anything online, you better understand copyright. The essays become redundant quickly in this collection (they’re cobbled together from speeches, articles and commentary), but you’ll find yourself quoting passages to your colleagues in no time.
Better by Atul Gawande
Yes, it’s about medicine. But as Malcolm Gladwell’s blurb notes, the lessons learned in the hospital, as relayed by surgeon/New Yorker writer/Harvard Med School professor Atul Gawande, will make any reader reassess their approach to their profession.
The Best Technology Writing
I’ve only read the 2009 anthology thus far (edited by Steven Johnson), but man, this is essential.
Clive Thompson’s articles in Wired
Each month he just gets it right. He questions media literacy, the line between communication and broadcasting on Twitter, and other of-the-moment concerns.
The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton
First of all, this book is just plain amazing. Incompetent anarchists running amok in fin de siècle England? Sign me up. I added this slim novel as an example of why we’re doing what we’re doing in the first place. If you’re not a reader, I don’t want you making decisions with respect to publishing. Secondly, this one’s in the public domain, so it provides a handy case study. You can get it for free if you dig around online, pay ten bucks for a Barnes & Noble edition (as I did), or, you know, just get it from the library.
And from a friend in online marketing at another publisher, a few more titles:
The Long Tail by Chris Anderson
Online Marketing Heroes edited by Michael Miller
Web 2.0 Heroes edited by Bradley Jones
Print Is Dead by Jeff Gomez
Search by John Battelle