Idea Arena Podcast – Cognitive Surplus Interview with Clay Shirky

In this interview I talk with Clay Shirky, author of Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in A Connected Age.

Shirky has been talking about the Internet on the Internet for over fifteen years and in the last five years he has written two books. His first book, Here Comes Everybody, was a historical narrative of sorts that traced the evolutions of the Internet from a thoughtful sociological point view, something missing from practically all social media books written in the last few years. Cognitive Surplus takes the reader one step forward and starts to prognosticate what might be possible and, as Shirky always does, provides a balanced yet positive view for what is to come: 

Just because the norms involved in social production have antecedents in market culture doesn't mean that the two modes can be easily hybridized, though. In fact, switching from paying professionals to create something to having communities do it for the love of the thing may be technically trivial but socially wrenching. Contested ways of organizing an activity potentially produce friction. There is a constant debate around the donation of blood, plasma, and organs as to whether they should be treated as a communal good or a market commodity. Both methods have been tried in various places, and each has its advantages and disadvantages. But the heat of the debate isn't about marginal difference between Red Cross blood drives (which rely on communal logic) and people selling their blood for plasma (organized in a market). The conflict instead it about the morality of the market as a way to get people to offer their blood or organs.

Cognitive Surplus Interview wth Clay Shirky

My Piece in Publishing Perspectives

I have started doing some written for a great outlet called Publishing Perspectives.

Led by Ed Nawotka, the site is taking a markedly different approach to covering the industry, much more diverse and global than you will find other places.

Today, they published my first piece titled Disruptive Innovation: What Health Care Teaches Us About the Future of Publishing.

In the March 4th, 2010 issue of Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Harvard Business School professor Clay Christensen wrote an op-ed about his views on the then-active debate over health care. The essay was written from his unique vantage point having studied companies and industries faced with the challenges of innovation. Christensen has authored or co-authored five books and countless articles on the subject of innovation and suggested the solution being offered in Washington was not going to lower health care costs.

In Christensen’s world, there are two kinds of innovation. The first is sustaining innovation, the kinds of incremental improvements that companies implement to serve existing customers (NEW! Big Brand laundry detergent, now with Stain Blocker!) The second is disruptive innovation, fundamentally new offerings that are cheaper and simpler than anything on the market that in turn create new markets that undermine incumbent firms.

In publishing, the emergence of Amazon at a time when only bricks-and-mortar stores existed would fit this disruptive profile perfectly with their business model of discounted prices, availability of every book in print and the single-click shopping experience.

Today, the emergence of digital publishing and e-books is, without a doubt, a form of innovation, but whether it proves to be merely incremental or truly disruptive will take some time to tell.

Read on…

Publishing 3.0

In this video, Richard Nash talks about the future of publishing. He has been working on a start-up called Cursor, since leaving the publisher post at Soft Skull, and looking to test many of the assumptions the industry is based on.

I know Richard and he makes some incredible powerful points in this talk that we have talked about in our conversations.

  • Publishing used to be about supply; the future will be about demand.
  • Publishers only operate on a small part of the demand curve for what readers will pay for culture and connection.
  • Success in the future will be about managing communities, not SKUs.

What is a Book? – Part 3

Craig Mod has a great piece on the future of publishing.

As a book designer, he draws the line between formless content and definite content.

Formless Content can be reflowed into different formats and not lose any intrinsic meaning. It’s content divorced from layout. Most novels and works of non-fiction are Formless.


Content with form — Definite Content — is almost totally the opposite of Formless Content. Most texts composed with images, charts, graphs or poetry fall under this umbrella. It may be reflowable, but depending on how it’s reflowed, inherent meaning and quality of the text may shift.

Mod believes formless content was the only real choice in the digital realm prior to the iPad, but now there is the possibility that definite content can be reproduced with its original intent.

He goes on to say that the page turning metaphor is weak and that content creation and navigation will be re-imagined over time.

The comments are worthy of your time as well, with some filtering needed between thoughtful and dystopian.

P.S. Click through and see the beautiful layout and graphics that Mod provides to make his case.

What Is A Book? – Part II

Yesterday, Penguin UK unveiled what a book might look like on the iPad.

Again, the word ‘book’ betrays what amazing abilities that technology like the iPad are going to deliver or as Michael Cader from Publisher’s Lunch pointed out many of these abilities already exist in the form of apps at the iTunes Store.

I continue to contend: You don’t interact with books, you read them.

A notable exception is flap books and pop-up books in the children’s realm and it is no surprise that Penguin was able to quickly conceptualize software equivalent.

If the real change in books is going to be that ability to interact, we need new vocabulary that moves us forward. The word ‘ebook’ gives us no real idea what is going to appear on the screen. These next iterations better resemble games, programs, or applications.

My temptation would be to call these new creations ibooks to emphasis the their interactivity nature (except for the use of that term by a certain company in Cupertino, CA for several years).

This separation of content from form is an important industry branding issue that currently muddles the publishing marketplace. And in this case, traditional book publishers lose, because of the already existing expectation that we find this sort of functionality in the another marketplace, mainly software.

Related: What Is A Book? from Dec 30, 2009

Writing Better Headlines

Tom Whitwell, assistant editor at The Times UK, says a great headline is creates 20X more traffic than a lame one. He provides history and advice in this slidedeck.

(via Public Words)

Print-On-Demand Rising

This week's Economist reports on the rising of print-on-demand technology:

About 6% of books in America are now printed on toner-based or inkjet machines—a rough proxy for print-on-demand (POD)—as opposed to on offset presses, estimates InterQuest, a market-research firm. Over the next five years, it predicts, this figure will increase to 15%. In 2008, the latest year for which data are available, about 285,000 titles were printed on demand or in short runs—132% more than in 2007 and for the first time more than in the conventional way. Amazon, the world’s biggest online bookseller, uses POD machines, although it does not reveal how often.

They also report print-on-demand has been a boon for niche publishers like Cambridge University Press. About 10% of the publisher's sales now come from POD books, up from 3% five years. Books that were taken out of print because demand was too low can now continue to be sold.

The industry's scorecard:

All this makes it difficult to predict POD’s impact on publishing’s supply chain, which is already in upheaval, mainly because of the internet. Readers should benefit from the greater variety. More authors will get published, for instance, but there will also be more competition. Publishers may save money, but they may also lose their role as gatekeepers. The losers are easier to determine: used-book sellers, logistics firms and, of course, the makers of offset-printing equipment.

This article doesn't provide any costs, but one copy of a 200-page, 6"x9" paperback costs $8.50 at Lulu. Using offset printing, the same book would cost $1.50 but the production run would need to be a couple thousand units. POD costs are going to continue to drop making it more attractive for larger quantities, allowing publishers to reduce waste and better match supply to demand.

Tumbling Todd

Just wanted to let you know that I also have a Tumblr blog where all of my links, twitter posts, and flickr photos get posted.

I also mention it because there are interesting photos, images and videos that I post there that don’t really fit here. Today I posted a great graphic analysis of the color changes to the Crayola over the last 100 years. In the past week, I have linked to a blog that is considering alternate designs for airline boarding passes, a set of college calculus cheat sheets, the fictitious Atari 2600 Avatar game, Sally Hogsheads’ Hog-isms, and a video of The Decade from the Covers of Magazines.

I can be a little noisy, but you might find some other interesting stuff there.

New Harvard Business Review: Slight Improvement

The new January-February issue of Harvard Business Review has a redesigned look and some new features.

Here is my take.


  • The columns from Dan Ariely and C.K. Prahalad are going to be conversation starters. And they are being smart about making them available outside the firewall. Check out Prahalad’s piece on The Responsible Manager and Ariely’s article on The Long-Term Effects of Short Term Emotions.
  • The book review section is outstanding. The magazine is now sourcing their selection from the contributors in the issue. The method creates a wonderfully electic mix from Condoleezza Rice’s choice of Alexander Hamilton or Roger Martin’s pick of The Enlightened Eye by Elliot Eisner. Erin Meyer recommends the outstanding Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em as a cross-cultural tool for global executives to better understand how to manage American reports. Really like this approach to reviewing books.
  • The visual language is clear and crisp. The sidebars and graphs are easily understood. Not a huge step from the old format, but nice and simple.
  • The Defend Your Research column is good and they pick a great first choice in Alex Pentland’s work on social signals. I hope they’ll continue to push this feature and be willing to push researchers.
  • The bulk of the articles are familiar fare. Many will find this reassuring.


  • The bulk of the articles are familiar fare. Some (like me) will want HBR to push more. More innovative thought is needed.
    • Where was the Dan Pink feature on his motivation findings from Drive?
    • Why hasn’t some researcher taken on Kevin Maney’s Trade-Off framework and either further supported with data or dispelled the theory as weak?
    • Why not a much longer piece on the counterclaims for Jim Collins’ Good To Great research that Michael Raynor and company are doing at Deliotte?
    • The book review of Chief Culture Officer was nice, but Grant McCracken deserved some space to make the case himself. See his ChangeThis manifesto to see what could have been done.
  • The magazine features works by sculpture Michel de Broin this month. While the approach of using modern art is interesting, the use of these sculptures is a stretch at creating meaning for the associated articles.
  • The Roger Martin piece on customer capitalism is more op-ed than constructive argument.
  • Yes, everyone loves lists, but the Best Performing CEOs countdown felt like something from you’d find Fortune, not Harvard Business Review.

Overall, I think this is an improvement. HBR won’t lose anyone, but I don’t think they we gain many either. Most will find it a facelift to the classic offering, rather than some redefinition of the magazine.

I hope we’ll see more tweaks and improvements in the coming months.

Don’t Be The Victim

Richard Nash, former publisher at Soft Skull Press and entrepreneur behind Cursor, wrote a set of predictions for what publishing will be like in 2020.

The highlight has to be:

6. In 2020 we will look back on the last days of publishing and realize that it was not a surfeit of capitalism that killed it, but rather an addiction to a mishmash of Industrial Revolution practices that killed it, including a Fordist any color so long as it is black attitude to packaging the product, a Sloanist hierarchical management approach to decision making, and a GM-esque continual rearranging of divisions like deck chairs on the Titanic based on internal management preferences rather than consumer preferences.

Notice that the adjectives are mostly people. I love that.

Contrast that with these statements:

  • Video killed the radio star.
  • The electric arc killed integrated steel mills.
  • The internet is killing newspapers.

Each of these statement relieves the decision makers of responsibility for their company's demise and instead lays the blame at the feet of innovation.

Not one existing steel company built an electric arc in the two decades that Nucor perfected the technology.

Michael Jackson and Madonna recognized what the rise of MTV would mean to the musicians.

The newspaper story is still playing out, but I would say it is not looking good for the incumbents right now.

What is a Book?

Michael Shatzkin ended his 2010 predictions for the publishing industry by saying, “The big meme coming out of 2010 will be ‘what is a book?'”

I have been thinking about that question a lot in 2009. I pulled together some of those thoughts for a Pecha Kucha presentation I gave in August. Shatzkin’s post pushed me to pull the slides back out, record the audio, and get it posted for everyone.

What is A Book? from Todd Sattersten on Vimeo.

The executive summary: We don’t all agree on what a book is anymore, and 500 years of meaning is colliding with 21st century advances. I wonder out loud about the need for new vocabulary to describe the book. Until we figure it out, there is going to be confusion, angst, and missed opportunities.

Interestingly, Don Clark at The Wall Street Journal write today about potential market confusion heading into the Consumer Electronics Show about what the difference is between a netbook and a smartbook.

Publishing isn’t the only industry having problems with the words they use.

The Future of Magazines (and Books and Newspapers)

Time Inc. has been dazzling everyone with the Sport Illustrated demo they released a few weeks ago, giving people a taste for what their reading experience could become:

Bonnier R&D and BERG provide another view that feels more thoughtful and considered, versus the previous eye candy.

This There Is No Page Fold meme says the same thing that BERG is getting at (ie not everything need to be on the first screen and I think this design brief could influence the future of web development as well.

Thomas Nelson CEO Michael Hyatt wrote a great post in response to the SI video and laid out six conclusions for what these developments mean for book publishing:

  1. The line between newspapers, magazines, and books is about to become blurred.
  2. Publishers will need to envision multimedia content from the beginning.
  3. Consumer expectations are going to skyrocket.
  4. The cost of producing digital books will get more expensive.
  5. Digital content creation and distribution will become our primary focus.
  6. People will be reading more than ever.

Logos CEO Bob Pritchett wrote a wonderful response to Hyatt’s piece laying out what his company has done as media converges in digital space. He ends the post by asking publishers about the competencies they currently have (and what they are really going to need):

  • Graphic design is a core competency in-house, not an outsourced project.
  • I have unrestricted global rights to the content I publish.
  • I employ an Information Architect.
  • My content is always designed for use in multiple media or formats.
  • Everything we own or license is thoroughly indexed and stored in a database.
  • I employ an Interaction Designer.
  • Software development is a core competency in-house.
  • I have an experienced digital publishing partner, not a project-based contractor.

Pritchett has always been very forward looking.I strongly recommend his presentation on methods his uses to price digital products. I originally saw him present it at O’Reilly Tools of Change a few years ago and has yet to see anyone adopt a similar approach.

New technologies. New competencies. New pricing methodologies. New business models.

2010 is going to be awesome.

Would you buy a 1 Mega-Pixel Digital Camera?

Close to a million ereaders are going to be sold this holiday season.

Don’t buy one. They are not ready yet.

Do you remember when you bought your first digital camera? That one megapixel or so resolution left you thinking you should have stuck with film. Remember struggling to figure out what to do with the images.You are going to find the same thing with the Kindle or nook or Reader.

Like I said last week, we have simulated the function of reading on a electronic device, but we have yet to re-envision of the form.