The Future of the Book

(Crossposted from ElectraPress.)

The protracted silence at the ElectraPress blog has no doubt produced an unfortunate dissipation of attention and energies, but I hope that those of you still poking around there will keep poking around, and that those of you with things to contribute will, in fact, contribute them. There are Big Things happening behind the scenes, Things that I can’t yet make public, but that will move this enterprise forward rather rapidly, rather soon.

Excuses and disclaimers out of the way, this post and some number of posts to follow will focus on current experiments in publishing (particularly, though not exclusively, academic publishing), and I hope that we might begin some discussions exploring what ElectraPress might learn from them.

First up, a couple of projects (and a project in development) from the Institute for the Future of the Book (see also the associated if:book blog) that are attempting to push the boundaries of the blog, rethinking the relationship between the kinds of intellectual work that gets done in blog posts and discussions and the kinds of work more traditionally made public in other venues, such as books and galleries:

  • IT IN place: artist Alex Itin describes his blog, created as part of his tenure as artist-in-residence at the Institute, as “a scroll on which my brain is splayed.” As Bob Stein suggests, Alex’s interactions with the blog quickly outstripped the Institute’s hopes for what he’d do, evolving and developing as the technologies with which he was working found their way into his art. IT IN place has become not a place to talk about the work, and not an alternative space in which to view the work, but a fundamental part of the work itself.
  • Without Gods: Mitchell Stephens, a professor of journalism at NYU and the author of several books, including The Rise of the Image, The Fall of the Word, is at work on a history of atheism, and is blogging the writing of the book — again, not just writing about the writing of this book, but putting the book’s ideas into circulation and discussion as he’s working, in ways that are changing the shape of the book as he works.
  • And, finally, a project in process: McKenzie Wark’s Gamer Theory. In this blog-to-be, Wark is going to publish his forthcoming book serially, with room both for discussion by readers and for revision and versioning of the original text based on those discussions. Right now, the folks at the Institute are wrestling with the shape of this forthcoming blog, in a most literal sense: how can the page be laid out such that the discussion of the text isn’t hidden behind the scenes, but is in fact given the same kinds of authority as the original posts? Can the blog be made horizontal rather than vertical? This discussion is ongoing over at if:book, and promises to result in a fascinating new model for the networked book.

Take a look at these projects — in what directions do they spur your imagination? How might the electronic press of the future make use of some of these innovations?

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