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booksThere seems to be an endless stream of news stories and blog posts about how eBooks like the Amazon Kindle will revolutionize reading and writing (here’s one from the Wall Street Journal). In keeping with one of the themes of this blog—upheaval and uncertainty breed opportunity and innovation—it’s not surprising that I’ve been coming across examples of some really cool new thinking in the publishing industry. My post a few weeks back about MagCloud, the magazine micro-printer is one example, and Fast Company has a couple other interesting stories in their May issue.

harperstudioheader1HarperStudio is a new spin-off of publisher Harper Collins that audaciously will offer authors a 50/50 cut of the profits on sales of their book. They will accomplish this by shaking up the publishing business model—instead of pushing out as many books as possible, HS will only publish two books a year, choosing instead to offer a multimedia platform of exposure for their stable of authors, including blogs, DVDs and eBooks with the intent of building readership in a new way.

39In another intriguing story, Scholastic sold 2.5 million copies (and the movie rights) to The 39 Clues, a children’s story that strings through 10 books, an online game, and trading cards.

The key to these surprising successes seems to be that publishers are beginning to think of the book as part of a broad, multi-faceted experience for their readers. I see this approach syncing up with tactics being applied by the social media marketers profiled on Merge—like Ria Sharon, who is creating “live” online events like her recent Pajama Party to augment and fuel the conventional online experience of MyMommyManual.com (check back soon for Part 2 of my conversation with Ria).

Publishing is clearly an industry that is desperately trying to redefine itself, and with our strong historical connection to the print world, this seems like a natural area for communication designers to play a valuable role.

In a related note…
stanza1I noticed a posting on the NY Times Gadgetwise blog about Amazon acquiring Stanza, the iPhone eBook app. This dovetails with my recent conversation with Terry Anderson about iPhone app development in which Terry commented that we will begin to see the big players in technology, media, and gaming (with their big marketing budgets) entering the iPhone app market soon. I would indeed call Amazon a big player. It will be interesting to see Amazon’s strategy for this acquisition—are they interested in catching a ride on the iPhone wave, or squashing it like a bug?

Follow up to an earlier post
Last month I wrote about Hilary Cottham and her groundbreaking London firm, Participle (post 3/20/09), and yesterday I found this post on the Frog Design blog DesignMind that highlights one of the signature Participle projects. Ironically, it’s a project that has a lot of synergy with the original Type1Tools products that Lisa and I created (the predecessor to HealthSimple).

better1I was intrigued by a recent link on Swiss Miss for a site called The Better Project, which offers a social networking venue for solving societal problems. Users create a “project” by listing a problem—which could be massive in scale like “public transportation,” or modest like “Washington Square Park”—then fellow users offer solutions and vote on the best ideas. As ideas emerge as promising (or at least popular), users are given the opportunity to join with others to engage in working toward a solution.

TBP is a creation of web developer Arc90 and grew out of Kindling, a business-focused software tool for generating ideas and community in the workplace.

I see some conceptual synergy between TBP and microfinancing (which I wrote about a couple weeks ago in a post on March 28). TBP appears to be in its early stages of growth, but the idea that social networking is moving into the realm of social change is exciting. And it offers a potential model for nurturing—and even funding—design-related entrepreneurial ideas.

Speaking of “better:”
Check out the 2009 Open Architecture Challenge for designing a better classroom. Obviously there is an architectural emphasis to this competition, but visual communication is such a strong part of learning and the classroom experience, it seems like there is an opportunity here for communication designers to offer some impactful solutions. Designer/enterpreneur Hilary Cottam of Participle is listed as a juror.

participle1

Thanks to Susan Bernstein for turning me on to the great work of Hilary Cottam and her London firm, Participle. Hilary Cottam seems to have a really clear vision of how design thinking and methodology can be used—by designers and others—to solve a variety of social problems. Here’s a link to an excellent FastCompany profile.

What I love about this story is that, in addition to having a remarkably fresh notion of how a design business can operate, Hilary also believes that designers must work in collaboration with other smart people to solve complex problems. In her setting, those other smart people include anthropologists, economists, entrepreneurs, psychologists, social scientists, among others. In the experience Lisa and I had growing HealthSimple, we relied heavily on a similar network of experts. It was the strength of this network and our willingness to collaborate that allowed us to navigate some really challenging situations.

Here’s a link to Hilary Cottam’s website. Merge will be all about seeking out people like Hilary who are challenging the conventions of design business.

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