About the book, the dominant role of fate in its fortune, about the barbarians who are rescuing it

bodoni[I report, fixing it here, my outpouring inspired by this post by Zio Jo on Facebook, as there Zuckerberg wilfully continue to swallow everything, to devour everything and to take everything to the place where memory ceases to exist.]

The success of a book, just like the success of a song, of a picture, of a kick at the goal, is always the result of a mysterious alchemy made of dedication and fortune, effort and chance, talent and relationships. Thomas Alva Edison and/or Albert Einstein (the quote has been attributed to the former or the latter from time to time and, in literary circles, there are those who devotedly and casually attribute it to Umberto Eco) managed to reduce “genius” to just two variables: “perspiration“, the sweat of one’s brow, and “inspiration“, a genius’ inspiration. Fat chance. We will never run short of inexplicable successes. We will never run short of books no one will ever have read (were they good or bad? No one will ever know). We will never run short of roaring post-mortem successes, perhaps years, decades, even centuries later, as was the case, in music, for a 17th-century German organ tuner, one Johann Sebastian Bach.

Chance. Chance is the major protagonist in our lives, in very aspect. Even more so when chance is put in relation to the destiny of ephemeral things such as “intellectual property“. The examples are before everybody’s eyes, it is a glaring truth. And yet man, in his illusory anxiety to prove to himself that he can govern life and the world, has always underestimated its weight, to the point of nullifying it.
Consider this: Fabio Volo’s book is a best-seller.
Fifty year from now, maybe no one will still remember it. Or maybe, in a hundred years, it will be the only book left on the face of the earth. Many like it. Many others hate it. For some, it’s badly written. For others, it’s wonderfully written. For some, it’s unendurable. For others, making time to read it is the highlight of the day.
Really, think about it, go back to “Consider this” and replace “Fabio Volo” with your author of choice: everything that follows is still true, undeniably true.
So, what is the “quality” of a book? What can we anchor it to?

What should the “quality” of a book be anchored to? To an arbitrary act, and as such, not subject to anyone’s critique. The arbitrary act of a reader, of a publisher choosing to publish that book instead of another, of a critic deciding to acclaim it.
And to “arbitrary free-will” itself, it will be possible to anchor the judgment of “non-quality“: the arbitrary act of the reader who reads a page and then puts the book aside, of a publisher rejecting it, of a critic (be the latter, less and less, a professional, or, more and more, a reviewer) deciding to pan it.
Just as the quality of a book cannot be separated from the arbitrariness of chance (or in other words “of time“) which even decides whether someone is made aware of the existence of that book, or not.

This is why I continue to hold as wrong, rear-guard actions, the refined intellectualistic analyses of the many who, faced with the phenomenon of self-publishing (where self-publishing = a method by which more books and more authors can reach a bookshop’s shelves, gaining a chance for visibility), focus on the false problem of “overabundance“: Oh, my! Now there are too many books how can the reader choose and find his or her way? With all this stuff, they exclaim, there is a lot of rubbish, who will save us?
This is a spectacular optical illusion: all these books, which are clogging the shelves of virtual shop windows, and not thanks to self-publishing, all these books were already there, they already existed because people want to write, and want to be read. Period.
Regardless of the real chances of success, regardless of the obvious fact that in the vast majority of cases no one will give a damn about my book, regardless of whether they speak well or badly of it. Man wants to express himself. More than that: man is expression. More than that: man is such INSOFAR AS he can express himself freely. And writing a book is one of man’s modes of free expression, hence, of being.

What has changed for the reader in the time digital Barbarians and the hordes of self-publishing? How will they find their way in the jungle made of the myriad of titles increasingly besieging them? How can we help the reader to see his way in selecting the books to dedicate time to?

Halt! Let’s take a step backwards: I called the existence of too many books, according to the mainstream analysis of self-publishing, a “false problem”. This is not true. Those books, which thanks to digital technology and the Internet can now get a chance of encountering a reader, already existed, they were all already there: they were all already inside the authors’ desk drawers, in the publishers’ wastebaskets. Or they were all already there, inside their author’s head, because if there is a deterrent to writing a book, well, the strongest is not seeing even a chance that there may be a reader. They were all already there, “good” books and “bad” books. “Good” for some, “bad”, those same books, for others. Today they all reach, with equal opportunities, the shelves of the online bookshops, and the caste of those who thought they held the keys to the Kingdom of Books (the Guardians of Distribution) retreat appalled by such a spectacle.

This is not bad, not at all. It is not bad for everyone to be able to express himself by writing books, just as it is not bad for anyone to be able to play a musical instrument, or pick up a paintbrush and smear a canvas or a sheet of paper, or gather with some friends to kick a ball trying to emulate Maradona’s lobs or Cristiano Ronaldo’s kicks in the top corner. It is not a bad thing; indeed, it’s a good thing! OK, that said, the question remains: what about the readers?

How can they find their way? The answer is multi-tiered. First: by chance. From the reader’s viewpoint, there is nothing wrong with randomness (in these cases the more refined, when it suits them, use the expression serendipity, but not for the “new books”, they only evoke painful dramas) to look left, right and center for the next book to read. Which I will start and then toss away if it stinks, and talk very badly about, if that pleases me. Or, vice versa, a book that I loved so much that I will force all my friends to read it. Or which will leave me indifferent, leading me to try the next one.

Then, there’s the tools of”discoverability“, so trendy. Some already exist, others are being invented, some are investing in algorithms, others bet on the human factor. There are authors who don’t give a tinker’s dam about promoting their books, and authors who dedicate their life and all their energies to it.
I have my personal opinion: Publishers. New publishers, who can say “these are the books I publish, based on these criteria, having these people do it, with this story”. Publishers whose task is to transpose their worldview into a catalog, not because what is inside is the best, “quality“, compared to what is outside. But rather to offer honest readers a face, whether convincing or not, pleasant or not, to orient themselves in making their choices.
Take heed, even this is not what counts most, because when we are talking about a book, the experience of reading a book, what really counts is only ONE THING.

READING BOOKS. May the experience of reading books survive, be saved, and thrive for ever. May books be written, to safeguard that free expression which is the essence of man, and be read, to safeguard that peculiar experience which is the book. Saying this may seam sacrilegious, but I am utterly convinced: as a reader, as a publisher, as a free man. What interests me is for the experience of reading a book (so vital for people to be motivated to write, and thus express their freedom and their being) to survive and thrive in the era of digital technology.
Let us then talk about why we like this book and absolutely dislike that one. But let us rejoice for every book that sees the light of day, for every book written. And for every book read.

And let us rejoice in the fact that – thanks to digital technology – every book now at least has a chance of being read by someone, somewhere in the world, and at any time, because thanks to digital technology, and to the removal of barriers by these “Barbarians” (of whom I am honored to be one) today every book is immediately available everywhere and for ever and ever.

Amen.

Beatrice Ughi, pure passion at work

Please come and meet Beatrice Ughi here. She’s kindly hosting our new venture, StreetLib USA, in the premises of her business, Gustiamo.com, in The Bronx, NY.
Beatrice is in the food business. I’m in the publishing business. Now we are together (again, but this is another story…) in the same place, doing different things.
The fact is that we share the same passion and the same values. You decide.

StreetLib USA is born: Running hard with a smile on our face

Giacomo D'Angelo
Giacomo D’Angelo, CEO of StreetLib USA

Look at this face. He’s an extreme runner. With a smile on his face.

He’s Giacomo D’Angelo, 33. He’s the CTO of StreetLib.com since 2008.
He’s moving to NYC right now, to The Bronx, ’cause I just appointed him as the CEO of the newborn StreetLib USA.

Look carefully at his face: he’s running the mountain’s snow with a smile on his face.
This is what he’s doing for us, the proud colleagues of him, for our company StreetLib.com, and for book-lovers.
He’s doing it because this is what we are doing since June 1st 2006, 10 years ago, when I founded the company in Italy, and this is what we are very good at: RUNNING HARD WITH A SMILE ON OUR FACE.

Wish us good luck, we deserve it ๐Ÿ™‚

Here’s how the book can be saved

bookweapon
Definitions

  • Book is used here in the sense of book-experience. For a broader definition, see the one given by Kevin Kelly and adopted by the Slow Reading Manifesto[ here]. In this sense the book we’re talking about, the one we want to save, doesn’t have anything to do with the book understood as the book-product, in either its paper or electronic format.
  • Save is used here in the literal sense. In the digital Internet era, the book (book-experience, see above) is in grave danger. Everything seems to be shifting towards the fastest, shortest, quickest. By definition, however, the book-experience requires length, time, prolonged concentration and isolation.

What we need to do

  1. We need to intentionaly take a stand on the real danger of the book’s disappearance: do we side with those who strive to save the book or those who wait indifferently for its end or those who actually try to facilitate its disappearance? Quartum non datur.
  2. Assuming we side with those who strive to save the book, we must become mindful of the true battlefield: it’s the Internet-world, today’s world is already increasingly permeated with and governed by the Internet and its application in every corner of life. To think that we can save the book by taking it away from this world in order to protect it in other (illusive) worlds unrelated to the digital Internet era is complete insanity (if done in good faith) or connivance with the enemy (if in bad faith). Either we save the book in and for the Internet-world, or the book will die.
  3. Before marching into battle, however, we must know how to recognize our enemies. Noting that the most dangerous enemies of the book are those who, betting on the misunderstanding, set themselves up as the book’s champions but, rather than the book-experience (see above), actually mean the book-product from which they make a profit. All the big publishing groups are also part of this crowd: when they talk about the book, they’re really talking about the book-product which they produce and distribute in the forms that are still dominant today. They denounce every deviation of the book-experience from these forms as an attack on their role as guardians and devotees of the True Culture, but what they really fear is the destruction of the economic model theyโ€™ve been sitting upon idly for centuries.
  4. The enemy ranks also include those who, affected by innovation anxiety, endeavour so that the book becomes, with digital technology, everything but the book we know and love: multimedia, interactivity, etc…. These are the promoters of the so-called enhanced-book at all costs. A product that, even if we still want to call it a book, does nothing but destroy the mainstays of the book in the sense in which we’ve defined it. However, we can help those understand the fight and transform them, eventually, into valuable allies.
  5. Our allies are however all those who truly love the book, as understood in the definition provided above. In other words: all those who love to write and read books. Authors and readers, figures that are frequently coincident in the same person.
  6. Anyone who loves reading and writing books would want them to be more available and increasingly accessible in all possible forms: paper, digital, audio. And this is what we’re fighting for.
  7. If, during the first stages of battle, the salvation of the book passes through the ebook (the possibility of extending the book-experience to the domain of digital and Internet fruition), it cannot be considered saved unless the paper-book-product is also saved, saving it from itself, or better yet, from its unsustainable present days, caused by by its soi-disant promoters.
  8. Now the time is right not only to insist on the path of the ebook, but also to free the paper book from the virus that’s destroying it: the unsold copies and returns that only the big distributors get money from, at the expense of all the others: the readers, who have to pay more for the copies actually bought; the publishers, who loose a lot of money; the bookstores, who move around a lot of stock and pay for space to house stuff they don’t sell; the authors, who find it harder and harder to get published by the increasingly fearful publishers unless the work is a sure hit.
  9. The future, the true salvation of the book is in the digital first program: the ebook on the one hand, and its printed paper version on the other, and the Print On Sale option already makes this possible today. The paper copy is printed only when actually ordered and bought by a reader. No more returns. The good news, for anyone who sides with those who want to save the book, is that now it can be done.

We need to be prepared and determined: overturning the paper book production and distribution supply chain means going to fight on enemy grounds, and they’ll do anything to block the way. But we’re ready. Go!

Here’s the market by me. This is something that doesn’t exist yet on the web and that’s why we’re launching StreetLib.com

Market Stall
(photo credits Burrard-Lucas Photography)

Save lots of money in courses and 3.0 conferences. Just go ahead and read this piece, which I wrote in July 2002 (some thirteen years ago), explaining the market by me. Here you’ll find out why I do what I’ve always done. And why Simplicissimus Book Farm I created the first Itinerant Ecommerce platform: StreetLib.com (visit it. At the moment nothing works but you can leave your email address to get updates, it will start working very soon). Ok, so here’s my idea of ecommerce (minor edit version), and market:

Where I live, here in Loreto, the itinerant greengrocer’s has been coming every Friday, on farmers market’s day. For a lifetime.
He doesn’t do any preventive mailing to boost demand. He doesn’t target his market based on psycho-socio-demographic criteria. He doesn’t approach me as Dear Customer, or Dear friend.
Of course, he’s careful not to do TV commercials or cover up the entire city with ads. Or, heaven forbid, post them on special boards put up in front of the most beautiful buildings of my city. And he doesn’t text me by surprise. Nor does he try to loyalize me.
He’s not selling me a lifestyle with his onions.
If the apples I bought last week were not as tasty as usual (or simply if I think they weren’t as tasty as usual) he gives me my money back, or some fruit in return.
But if he realizes I’m just a jerk that’s trying to take advantage, he doesn’t say I’m right just because I’m a customer. No. He tells me to fuck off instead, so that everyone can hear, and that I’d better never show my face there again.

My greengrocer’s doesn’t have me answer to some stupid surveys.
He doesn’t do market research: his life is research on and with the market.
He has no mission. He doesn’t give a damn about strategic positioning.

He doesn’t have any privacy policy: he’s been selling me onions for ages and never once has he asked me what I do for a living. He’s never asked how old I am. He’s never asked what’s my educational background. He’s never asked if I’m married. He’s never asked if I have any children. He’s never asked how much money I fucking make. He’s never asked what car I drive. He’s never asked whether I travel or not. He’s never asked for the authorization to use my personal data under the provisions of the PrivacyAct. But, Goddamn! He does know that if he forgets to put aside for me those eggplants he only has twice a year I get pissed off like a sleepless bear and never show up again for at least three months.

I don’t like marketing. Quite the opposite, really: I hate marketing. But then you all hate it too, don’t you? When you’re not at work and have to pretend that it’s interesting and that you like it, lying even to yourselves.
I prefer the merchant who has a passion for something he goes look for, something he buys and then brings back to the square telling everyone all the wonderful things about his discovery.

Marketing embodies the intrinsically invasive nature of mass society: mass production, mass media, mass consumption.
And just like any invasive reality, it is basically violent.
Language is always a good detector. I don’t like the language of marketing.

I like direct and genuine language instead, one that speaks to the heart of things.
I like the word ‘seller‘, I like the word ‘buyer‘, I like the word ‘dealer‘, I like the word ‘customer‘, I like the word ‘shop‘, I like the word ‘shopkeeper‘, I like the word ‘stall‘, I like the word ‘stallholder‘, I like the word ‘market‘, I like the word ‘money‘, I like the word ‘discount‘ when I’m buying, not when I’m selling.
I like the word ‘price‘, I like the word ‘Thank you!‘.

My itinerant greengrocer’s doesn’t even have a clue as to what competition is. His neighbor stallholders who sell the same things as him, are his best friends.

What a weird market, isn’t it?

Enjoy StreetLib. We’ll start using it to sell ebooks and put them on sale, for those who want to. But this is an itinerant ecommerce platform. If you wan to use it to sell or put on sale other products, just give a whistle.

[PS I had promised Simplicissimus development dream-team, led by StreetLib project leader Michele, we wouldn’t have publicly launched StreetLib before April 1st. Well It was an April’s fool prank, of course, folks ๐Ÿ˜€]