How Crowdsourcing Is Changing the Book
Today readers have more power than ever. Not only are publishers turning to their audiences to fund major projects, but they also look to consumers for feedback and help in creating the next bestseller. It's called crowdsourcing, and it has been growing in popularity as social publishing sites continue to thrive. For example, on Scribd, readers discover and discuss books from a massive digital library of bestsellers and self-published works, while on Medium, shorter articles are published by users, collaboratively edited, and ranked by popularity. Both platforms allow users to make comments on the work. Crowdsourcing gives readers a voice, but it also creates a buzz for the author's work and an audience ready to receive it.
The latest crowdsourced project generating buzz is Walter Isaacson's latest book on the origins of the personal-computing era. Over the weekend, Isaacson posted excerpts of his book on LiveJournal, Scribd, and Medium to gather reader feedback. Quoted in BloomsbergBusinessweek, the Steve Jobs biographer says, "I got to the point of the book where people started using the internet to collaborate. It didn't take a genius to say, 'why don't I use the Internet to collaborate?'" So far the experiment has been a success with over 18,000 readers and 125 comments on Medium alone. Some of those comments are from individuals actually mentioned in the work, fact checking Isaacson's account.
A similarly ambitious project is Macmillan's Swoon Reads, which has created a platform for users to post their manuscripts. In turn, readers and Macmillan editors can critique the works and vote for their favorites. And in 2013, Harlequin partnered with Wattpad to help host it's New Adult Contest, and selected six winners this December from over 600 manuscripts submitted via Wattpad.
Beyond the book, crowdsourcing and user-generated content is influencing mainstream media in important ways. Newsrooms look to Twitter for breaking news, magazines create discussions around hashtags that morph into print content, and cell phone videos bring us dangerous stories when a camera crew cannot.
Crowdsourcing is thriving, but when it comes to the book, most often one individual creates the content alone and then shares it for public critique. Few authors seek chapter submissions from their readers or even plot suggestions. But I suspect that with consumers' growing expectation of participation, this will begin to change.
Projects like J.K. Rowling's Pottermore, an interactive online community that allows users to embark on their own wizarding adventures, and Sourcebooks' Put Me In The Story product, which personalizes bestselling children's books, are early steps in this evolution.
Considering it is New Year's Eve, I think it's fair that I make one prediction for the future. Although I think there will always be a place for the traditional novel, one that is written alone and read alone, user-generated content will begin influencing the format and content of books. Consumers are getting used to having their say, and I don't think that expectation will stop at the book.