Looks like the publishing business has started tapping on the collective intelligence of the Internet public for some of its books. O’Reilly Rough Cuts is a new paid service which lets people have early access to content on new technologies, before it’s published. It lets you read the book as it is being written, so off the bat it’s not something intended for everyone (since it’s not pretty), but there’s more…
As seen from their FAQ: When you buy a book on the Rough Cuts service, you get access to an evolving manuscript. You can read it online, download as a PDF, or print. Once you’ve purchased a Rough Cuts title, you have a chance to shape the final product via suggestions, bug fixes, and comments directly to the author and editors.
Here are my quick takes on this:
1. Personalization – No single writer can ever be an expert on everything, so allowing the public (paid ones) to have a say in the final product gives it a good chance of being a interesting book. Playing a part in constructing these books would also give contributors a sense of ownership, which in turn helps marketing it via word-of-mouth. How O’Reilly recognizes or rewards that though, is another matter.
2. Wikipedia-likeness – Like Wikipedia, harnessing collective intelligence can be a powerful thing, but unlike wikipedia, the evolving stops once the book is published. This Rough Cuts process might end up being more disruptive than it’s worth, since not all points of views might be accepted. OReilly book editors might have to consider how they are going to approach a paid contributor who’s perspective aren’t heard (that’s what they’re paying for right?).
3. Cash & Credits: Sadly, their FAQ shows nothing of crediting anyone who helps build their books. In fact, rather than to say “help”, they are calling the process as a service for readers to “voice their thoughts”. The ironic thing is that contributors are basically paying to help. Lots of companies, including Apple, take user feedback seriously and adopt ideas from others into their products. No one’s monetarized this process though, and it’s funny seeing this process work in a reversed way.
I get my fair share of half-done papers from friends and colleagues needing my attention. Why should I pay to get more unprocessed junk in my inbox?
UPDATE: I knew I’ve seen this somewhere before… Dan reminded me of Lawrence Lessig’s wiki book project to be published as Code v.2, the updated installment to his awesome Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace in 1999. Here you can see, add and change his book before it publishes. Should be published by now, but I can’t seem to find out how it’s doing (information-overload).