The NYT has an article on digital book publishing, which already has responses from Umair Haque and Jeff Jarvis. These got me thinking about an idea for book publishing 2.0, based on the following:

  1. Ideas, markets, and technology are changing so rapidly that a static book is quickly outdated.
    1. Books with long-term value have always been republished as new “editions.”
    2. Books create value as a one-stop-shop on a specific topic by organizing and synthesizing a sea of information from myriad sources.
    3. Chris Anderson’s “Long Tail” blog is an example of a pre-publication approach to publishing 2.0 — harnessing the community interested in the topic to flesh out ideas.
    4. RSS offers a platform for continuous content updates — and podcast feeds are an example of updates tied to a digital device.
    5. It won’t be long before someone invents the iPod of books, which makes the digital reading experience comparable (if not better than) the paper-based reading experience.

So here’s the idea for publishing 2.0: the book as continuously updated idea platform

Let’s take Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail as an example — after the book’s publication, long tail economics will continue to evolve rapidly, but the book will remain static (even if Chris continues to operate his blog). But what if the book didn’t remain static? What if the book was continuously updated and republished in new “editions” that incorporate:

  1. Reader comments and supplemental “user-generated” content
    1. Updates and revisions that reflect evolving trends and new ideas

In this scenario, a book is still an organized body of knowledge on a topic shaped by an author’s vision, perspective, and expertise — but it is also a living, breathing, adaptable entity, able to respond to its readers and incorporate new thinking (both from the author and from readers).

So imagine: rather than buying a book, you subscribe to it: you get the current edition, access to reader-only forums (i.e. community) in which the author actively participates, and a “feed” of continuous content updates. If an author were committed to the topic, the book could be sold as an annual subscription.

This model would allow the author to continue to be the steward of the idea or the top — in Chris’ case, he could continue to steward the “long tail” idea.

As Chris did, the author could maintain a blog as the public face of the book, allowing others to link in.

I’ll admit this idea needs a lot more baking — but I’m going to harness the power of blogging by throwing it out there and enlisting others to help flesh it out.

Here’s the holy grail: a vision of the book that both John Updike and Jeff Jarvis could embrace. Perhaps that’s pie in the sky, but I remain a devoted believer in the middle ground.