Fairly quickly, indeed! This is the new publishing economy in action: fast and flexible and revolving around products whose logic is responsive, rather than predictive. As an industry, publishing has traditionally relied on a book-then-audience framework, an if-you-build-it-they-will-come sort of infrastructure that injected a bunch of uncertainty -- and, therefore, inefficiency -- into the publishing process. A book's audience was potentially big, but also simply potential: Until sales numbers brought clarity to the situation, a title's market was largely assumed, which is to say, hoped for.
And hope has never been much of a business model.
All the uncertainty has been necessary in a mass-market world that's relied almost exclusively on things like media appearances and table placement at bookstores to sell books. A book deal, traditionally, has been about marketing as much as production. In a digital environment, though -- with long-tail economics that allow niche products to find their markets and vice versa -- the Assumed Audience no longer needs to be publishing's guiding paradigm. Ebooks, with Amazon as both the environment and the arbiter of transaction, allow for much more elasticity and efficiency. That's what Longreads can take advantage of as it transforms itself from curator to publisher: Build a book not just for an audience, but of an audience.
And! Do it all really, really quickly. Longreads: Best of 2011 went from idea to Amazon-available product in less than a month, Armstrong notes. Of course, part of what allowed the book to come together so nimbly was the fact that its content was already, you know, content. Best of 2011 is just what its name suggests: a work of curation, of aggregation, rather than original narrative. One of the inefficiencies of traditional publishing has been something that even Amazon's connective, collective power can't remedy: Book-length narratives take a crazy-long time to research and produce. And until the robots fully take over, that's not going to change. Because of that, some of the most interesting, and telling, experiments in ebook publishing have been playing out -- and will likely continue to play out -- with re-appropriated content.
Which means, for authors, a shift in the focus of book promotion from publisher...to community. Being included in a collection is different, obviously, from authoring your own book: It's a different kind of exclusivity, one that's both more passive, and more serendipitous, than first-person-primary authorship. The Longreads book is the product, ultimately, of crowdsourcing -- of collective marketing that ebbs and flows over time. The pieces included in the collection are there because they spread, organically, in the digital space -- through Facebook, through Twitter, through the #longreads hashtag. That's the (completely appropriate) irony of the Longreads book: Its stories are frozen in book form because, marketing-wise, they proved so dynamic.