#ToCcon Post 2: When is a book not a book?

I’m often heard on Twitter evangelising my love of Hilary Mantel. Coming out of the Book Sprints session at #ToCcon I find myself thinking about Wolf Hall. Given Mantel’s reputation for long and meticulous research, this might seem a bit paradoxical. She certainly doesn’t go from zero to book in five days. However there is a link. One of the most powerful impressions Wolf Hall created in me, was a real sense of how disruptive the printing press was to the status quo. Books (and dangerous ideas) circulated covertly if not freely, promoting discussion. Underlying the whole novel is Cromwell’s broiling anger at the lies and power of the Church, and his participation in the debate that was going on amongst educated people across Europe. The circulation of ideas was no longer controlled by how fast scribes could write, but by how fast presses could print, and smugglers could smuggle.

What today’s session on Book Sprints suggested to me is that collaborative HTML5 tools are going to stretch the boundaries of what a book is, and push towards another new era in the exchange of ideas. Collaborations amongst experts and amateurs can be quickly convened, created and published. Some of these collaborations will produce highly expert works. Other will produce more locally relevant (local to place or time). From my own world and viewpoint in particular I think these tools could be of great use to academic and university press publishers. There are a number of such tools around. Today’s presentations were from BookType and SourceFabric. Hugh McGuire’s Press Books is built on similar principles.

I’m trading in the adage “content wants to be free” for “ideas really want to be shared”. And that’s what’s so exciting about these collaborative tools.

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