I’ve been trying to dig up a citation for a quote I heard on NPR long ago, which I believe was attributed to Robert Giroux of the publishing house Farrar, Straus and Giroux. It’s to the effect of “I publish writers, not books.”
Likewise, the core unit of publishing will be the author app, and here’s how it will evolve, according to Abe, who indulged my questioning this morning. You see, I’m the architect of several publishing e-commerce sites and of Baen Publishing’s first Web API for mobile applications, and publishing is my special area of interest where coding and futurology is concerned.
The first publishing apps are simply like individual, tailored e-bookstores for authors. Users download the app and get alerts when the author posts new free content and when the author’s for-pay content becomes available, all of which can be accessed within the app, though it will present options for sending content to other apps, like the Kindle, for instance. Free content will include blog posts; press releases; excerpts of text, video, and audio; and even trailers for graphic novels, games, and movies for the most popular authors. For-pay content will be, well, the for-pay versions of these things.
Apps will also include consumer-analytics tools that track use patterns. Authors will be able to see how fast people consumed their work, where they skimmed, where they were attentive, where they gave up. That sort of thing. The app will build a profile on all the users and identify the most literate ones, which in most cases will not be the ones who get top consideration. In addition to these passive analytics, the app will offer coupons, discounts, and other incentives for readers to provide active feedback, from multiple-choice ratings to actual reviews.
The first author apps will, of course, get their data from typing and touch-screen ui.
But then there will be a convergence with wearable tech. Smart-contact lenses will record pupillary response; subcutaneous bio-monitors will record capillary response, heart-rate, respiration. The app will correlate these data and show the audience’s real-time interactions. An author will be able to filter data according to members’ literacy, attention span, educational background, and so on. (Meanwhile, similar technology will be employed — is already being employed — to help producers edit games and movies and to make VR simulations more immersive.)
The effects of the passive-analytics boom will be manifold, and largely unintended. Western society will flirt more heavily with censorship, as law enforcement correlates reading profiles with incitement to criminal activity, especially terrorism. Ironically, religious fundamentalists will largely fall out against general censorship as their own holy books and apologetic tracts draw special scrutiny. Universities will change up their course curricula as theories of writing craft become supported or undermined.
Some interesting patterns will emerge. By-the-numbers potboilers will more reliably pull strings, but there will be powerful new writing movements to subvert audience expectations and hit more subtle emotional registers. Not all writing will devolve into crass pornography. For the first time ever writers will see at a glance where they just aren’t connecting with most people — as they create profiles of their own response to their own work and compare it to the graphs produced by their audience. (“Hmm, I was really feeling it here but my audience isn’t? Why is that?” As some point an AI consultant will give them the answer if they can’t work it out themselves.)
One of my artist friends said she went into illustration because she could tell quickly whether what she produced worked well for other people. A short story was too slow and the generated effect too hard to gauge for her. The author app will probably change this.
This is somewhat tangential. When I was in high school, I read a Donald Wollheim story called “Malice Aforethought.” The idea was that two writers became psychically linked, unbeknownst to either. They begin sending the same story to the same fantasy magazine. The one writer, Dane, is faster than the other, Sebastian, but unlike Sebastian, he’s not very fanciful and does not read the genre. Their editor, Smith, is likewise not much of a fantasy reader and would rather be husbanding more “literary” work. Dane, being slower and getting his story in later, is accused of plagiarism.
The writer and the editor are not fanciful, like I said, so they don’t even entertain the idea that there’s a psychic link. This proves to be their undoing.
Sebastian laboriously copies out Lovecraft’s “The Rats in the Walls,” then burns his manuscript. Dane picks up the story through their psychic link, and … well, you can guess what happens.
It’s a great story, and I’m sorry I’ve given so much away, but here’s the thing: shortly after I read it, I found a similar story in an obscure collection. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the other story, just that it had the same idea with different trappings. Think on that a moment.
So I asked Abe about this, and he said it was a breach. The author app, he explained, matures to be a biomechanical substrate with multiple purposes, including real-time collaboration — it’s basically the same tech that underlies the Collective, which I described in my first Strange Toys post. A transhuman broke quarantine and tried to promote a member of his gene line at the expense of Donald Wollheim — or maybe at the other guy’s expense, Abe couldn’t say.
This is how it worked. Nanotech cells grow a false-neural substrate through a person’s brain, equipping them with a subspace communication link. The delivery mechanism for the nanocells is an aerosol mist, squirted in the ear, or into the sinuses. Someone — or something — dropped the cells into the medication of the oblivious Wollheim and his counterpart. Firmware was set up beforehand to link the minds and encourage them to produce collaborative stories. They didn’t get a full version of the Collectivization app, just a repurposed collaboration piece, but if you’re wondering where the tech eventually winds up, maybe this gives you some idea.
Anyway, two authors had their brains altered to be psychically linked, by some entity trying to give one of them a leg up, or maybe a push down, in the great transhuman-ascension game.
Thus the two stories.
Abe knows about it because the project was too clumsy. Apparently the transhuman who engineered the project didn’t figure on the collaboration being so on-the-nose in the ideas it generated that it would end up exposing his game. The quarantine automation systems worked backward from the publications and sent in agents to catch the offending transhuman and restore the minds of the victims.
If I ever want to help a 1980s parallel-world iteration of my younger clone self attain literary greatness, apparently this would not be the way to do it.