Crowd Accelerated Innovation and eBooks

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?

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1 Comment

Filed under ebooks, industry

One response to “Crowd Accelerated Innovation and eBooks

  1. I’m an ink on paper publisher working in a very tiny niche: Southeast Asian history focusing on the Khmer civilization…as far from Harry Potter volume sales as you can get! (-:

    I actually first saw Chris Anderson’s presentation on paper in the Jan 2011 issue of Wired. I wanted to share it with friends but instead of finding the article online (not posted yet) I found this great article relating his talk to ebooks. The video talk is essentially the same as the print article…but better.

    And perhaps that is the moral of the story for publishers of paper and ebooks alike. According to Anderson, and his arguments are compelling, video is the viral glue that can unify, amplify, energize and enlighten individuals around the world. Video doesn’t replace books, or ebooks or human teachers, but adds a new dimension to the learning process. Ultimately, this multimedia approach will make books better as they continue to evolve.

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