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Don’t stick a fork in books yet

Teleread, : “I just came across an excellent write-up called How to Fork a Book: The Radical Transformation of Publishing. “Forking” is a term borrowed from open source software, whose license allows anyone to make their own modified versions that diverge from the original, taking it in another direction, like a fork in a path. Well, nowadays there are open source books. Forking turns them from fixed, unchanging artifacts into living works that grow and develop over their lifespans or even give birth, their very authorships blurring. That, in turn, reminded me of conversations I had in the past year or so with Alex Schroeder about wikis: an electronic medium, defined by continuous rewriting and blurred authorship, that’s been in decline for a solid decade now. On my blog, I argued it’s because people don’t want authorship to become blurred, but clearly there are exceptions to the rule. Yet it doesn’t seem to happen very often. While Wikipedia has been around for two decades now, and so have the Creative Commons licenses, the practice of taking a free culture book and building upon it is uncommon. In fact, this is only the second or third case I’ve heard of so far. It’s a lot more common in the field of videogame art, as I wrote in a book of my own. And even that is relative: most people simply stick to reusing free culture works unchanged. Why it matters? Because, frankly, book publishing these days looks tired and adrift. Maybe people read more, assuming we can trust surveys, but I’m not sure they read books. Indies struggle to sell; big publishers report moving fewer units (yet making bigger profits, go figure); and don’t even get me started about what can be found in Romanian bookstores. Certainly most of my own reading time is spent online, jumping from blog to blog, going back, opening more tabs. If this makes the web sound like one giant Memex, that’s because it is. It’s how we always wanted to read, but could only take notes, earmark pages or collect newspaper clippings. Books don’t need to be reinvented. Reading, however, does — as an act inseparable from writing. Because we ache to create, yet our creativity is too often stifled…”


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