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  • Launching the Publishing Renaissance

    January 27, 2012 @ 4:10 pm | by Davin O'Dwyer

    My interview with the US economist and renowned Marginal Revolution blogger Alex Tabarrok is in today’s Innovation magazine, and can be read here. Tabarrok’s new ebook is called Launching the Innovation Renaissance, and it’s a sharp, brisk read that tackles some of the urgent issues facing the US in terms of encouraging and sustaining an innovation economy, from patent law reform to immigration policies to overhauling education at both second and third level.
    Tabarrok discusses these issues in the interview, but the book itself is a good example of the disruptive innovation going on in the publishing industry. Released as an ebook by TED books, the publishing arm of the famed “ideas conference”, it points to a trend in publishing that I think is going to become increasingly pronounced as more and more readers go digital – non-fiction books in particular are going to become shorter and will be produced on much tighter schedules. The increasing popularity of Amazon Singles is another sign of how the long-form essay and the short-form book are meeting in the middle in digital form – in many ways, it’s the return of the sort of pamphlet that for so long allowed for the quick exchange and formation of ideas.
    Tabarrok says that his experience in the blogosphere shaped his new book in a fundamental way. “The first thing you learn when you’re blogging is that people are one click away from leaving you,” he says. “So you’ve got to get to the point, you can’t waste people’s time, you’ve got to give them some value for their limited attention span. And I’ve tried to write the book in that light.”
    Launching is certainly a concise read, covering a lot of ground very concisely, and it illustrates how policy-oriented material aimed at a mainstream audience can benefit from the sort of focus the format encourages – a previous example was The Great Stagnation by Tabarrok’s fellow Marginal Revolutionary Tyler Cowen (in  some respects, Launching can be seen as a companion piece to Cowen’s ebook).
    The rise of the short-form ebook also serves to differentiate the material from academic-oriented writing – a number of books in the social sciences run the risk of attempting to cater to both academic and mainstream audiences, ultimately pleasing neither.
    “It’s difficult in academic work, there is a different set of virtues that are appreciated, sometimes it can be a little bit tricky going back and forth,” says Tabarrok. “Writing on the blog, you want to get attention and make strong claims. In academic work, that often doesn’t pay, so sometimes it’s a little bit difficult going back and forth to navigate these differences.”
    In any case, expect this form of innovation to disrupt traditional publishing in a big way over the next few years.

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