11 episodes

A podcast by Tom Abba and Baldur Bjarnason about interactive media, digital publishing, hypertext, storytelling of all sorts.

This is not the future of the book Tom Abba and Baldur Bjarnason

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A podcast by Tom Abba and Baldur Bjarnason about interactive media, digital publishing, hypertext, storytelling of all sorts.

    Don't call it a comeback

    Don't call it a comeback

    Tom was in Montréal the other day for a conference and we recorded a podcast episode reviewing what has happened in the two years that have passed since the last episode.


    In this episode we talk about, amongst other things:



    How fine arts and literary fiction projects are generally more successful than software projects as they are more likely to achieve what they aimed to achieve than software.
    The industry cites ‘commercial viability’ without actually looking at what’s commercially viable.
    The gap between what people clearly want and what is being provided.
    How the publishing industry should be doing more experimentation that’s explicitly targeted at the mainstream.
    How next to nothing has changed in two years.
    Value and business models.
    People are hungry for new and interesting things.


    Warning! Iffy acoustics and we are well out of practice at this podcast thing.





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    The publishing system of production

    The publishing system of production

    In this episode we cover conferences, production systems, W.E. Deming, David Pye, and more



    We start off by criticising the idea that conferences are educational. Baldur refers to a two year old blog post he wrote about conferences on his old (now defunct) blog.
    Baldur goes off on one talking about David Pye, workmanship of risk and certainty, and, his current fav, W.E. Deming.
    The ebook has been designed to match a pre-existing production system, which prevents innovation. Everything gets compared to muffins and/or beef.
    Books as furniture versus books as media. Some thoughts on how new forms interact with the old (partial displacement). The value of print.
    Will print and digital diverge? Two different use cases.
    Is the Kindle’s lack of book design features intentional? Baldur thinks so. His theory is that Amazon wants a more modular publishing industry.
    Can ebooks withstand competition from other digital media?
    Baldur airs the idea of audience aggregators.
    Writing as a (very bad) career choice versus writing as a vocation.
    Value-based pricing and services. Practical versus emotional value. Why Baldur thinks subscription is the future of digital media consumption. The value of an individual digital artefact is much harder to demonstrate to a regular consumer. (He expanded on this point in a blog post as well.) Tom compares to The Friends of the Royal Academy.
    Recurring revenue for products with a zero or low marginal cost is gold.
    Why the web-based Pelican Books is both a huge missed opportunity and not. Grasping an opportunity is a mistake when you don’t have a system in place to capitalise on it.
    Copying Dickens is a bad idea.
    Belgravia. How publishers look like mad, adrenaline-fuelled risk seekers to Baldur.
    The entire point of making anything within a complex system is that you know very little about what is actually happening .





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    Moonshots vs infrastructure

    Moonshots vs infrastructure

    In this episode we cover a schism in digital media that traditional publishing has unwittingly played into.


    Baldur explains what it is that makes people the most angry at him.
    Moonshots versus Infrastructure.
    Digital media Reaganomics
    Brute force effort versus building automation
    Baldur agrees with a Nazi (von Braun).
    Changes require infrastructure. Trickle-down economics don’t build roads.
    Without open source and open standards we’d still be stuck in the CD-ROM model.
    Paradigm clashes are messy.
    Touchpress. Editions at Play. Creative people doing clever things.
    Reviewing the story, not the innovation.
    On not releasing the APIs. Preventing people from copying or building on Edition at Play.
    The danger of building one-off infrastructure replacements. Disposable scaffolding versus roads and waterworks.
    Praise for Inkle.
    Praise for FailBetter/FundBetter.
    Hybrid models are possible if infrastructure is the end goal.
    Baldur’s problem with Readium.
    What does this dichotomy mean for publishers?
    What is a publisher in print? What is a publisher in digital?
    End-to-end integration is very hard to pull off in digital. Choose a focus: author or audiences.
    Audience aggregators versus production aggregators.
    Publishers act as if authors were completely fungible. Foundation labour in publishing is brittle.
    Using Unbound as a case study: a social capital converter.
    Trade publishers don’t have that clarity yet.
    The two potential models.
    Authors, unfortunately, need social capital.
    The obligatory Craig Mod reference.
    Create a clear value proposition for either the author or the audience.
    Patreon as premium LiveJournal communities. Why it is big and getting bigger. Baldur forgot Erika Moen’s name despite reading her work for over a decade.
    Patreon as a pure audience aggregator that’s agnostic about the content format. Disconnecting the business model from the production model results in creative freedom.
    Bolting book retail model on web artefacts.
    Subscription requires a clear and concrete value proposition.
    How do you get to the point where you’re covering your costs?
    Patreon only works if you do like Dave Sim did with Cerebus: deliver on your promises, consistently and reliably. (All of Dave Sim’s other weirdnesses are decidedly optional.)
    The ‘Print is Great’ worldview hinders all digital efforts.
    How Baldur could fund the purchase of the cheapest iPad Mini.
    ‘Toxic’ is relative.
    Amazon’s asymmetric bet with the Kindle.
    Print is viable in the long term, just not interesting to Baldur.


    Warning! Contains ums, aws, and wobbly arguments.


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    You are here. What now?

    You are here. What now?

    Some thoughts on where to go from wherever you are. Most of us aren’t in the position of even trying to make the same mistakes Touchpress did. What approaches can the rest of us take towards making new things? Without taking on VC-funding, that is.



    As always start with the community around you. If you can find 100 people who share your interests even before you start, so much the better.
    Start small, start cheap. Build up your costs and capabilities over time.
    Read Craig Mod’s Post-Artefact Books and Publishing
    Stick to a genre or theme. Define your audience by defining your work.
    Make the community a part of your career.
    Don’t start with a bang. Build up to big things with a series of small. Don’t start with the epics. The body of work should be epic, not individual works. Bootstrap.
    Put work out with some frequency.
    We also go off topic a bit.
    If you want to do technical things you need technical skills (no way around it, really).
    If you want to do creative things you need creative skills (no way around that either).
    If you want to do something that’s both technical and creative, you need to understand both (sorry, not sorry).
    HTML as the lingua franca of technical production.
    Iterate in public.
    The currency of digital is attention.
    People need to use Youtube more.
    We talk a lot about Mark Z. Danielewski and his body of work. The value of having an insane fanbase.


    Warning! Contains waffling, hemming, hawing, digressions, and indirection.



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    Money? What money?

    Money? What money?

    Some thoughts prompted by Touchpress’s pivot.



    Touchpress, who?
    The core problem with the app stores.
    The difference between bookstores and digital markets.
    The importance in digital of having a specific worldview.
    The big advantage that ebooks have over apps.
    Who makes money in the app store?
    A lot of talk about The Silent History.
    In praise of low budget projects, made by small groups of people.
    McSweeney’s.
    The Pickle Index.
    On games not being the only future of digital storytelling. (A future, absolutely, just not the only one.)
    If you copy too much from games, you end up competing with games, and they’re generally much better at it.
    High production value videos are soooooo expensive.
    Pick a genre and stick to it.
    Baldur goes on a rant on publishing industry contracts.
    On not confusing detail with quality.
    To be continued…


    May contain swearing.



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    Hackathons and hack culture

    Hackathons and hack culture

    In this episode we worry about digital publishing not moving forward to the future:



    How do we get ebooks and the like moving forward without wholesale destruction?
    We also respond to that Hackathon article. No, not that one. No, not that one either. This one.
    When do hackathons work?
    This is the episode where we sing the praises of React. No, not that react. The other one.
    Singing the praises of Claire Reddington.
    Don’t devalue work and don’t overvalue work.
    We talk about how big publishing’s value proposition has been called into question.
    On authors as the actual providers of value.
    Singing the praises of Canelo.


    May contain swearing.



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    Download episode six
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