Cliques and Clicks at Evening on the Future of the Book

Four speakers working on the future of digital publishing took turns presenting to an audience of about 100 at the

The rapturous Ratliff rocks the microphone

Four speakers working on the future of digital publishing took turns presenting to an audience of about 100 at the second Code Meet Print event at General Assembly last night. Glenn Nano of Centurion Venture Partners played host, and judging from the applause, the social hierarchy of the speakers was as ridged as at a high school assembly.

The Atavist, starring Wired writer Evan Ratliff, was the cool, smart kid who is probably going to go to a good school and everyone likes to think they are friends with. Social Book was that English teacher who did a bunch of cool things before teaching and everybody tries to get him as their advisor. Joyland was the nerdy fanboy who is funny in class but spends all his time getting his friends to submit to the lit mag he started. And FS Publishing was the girl you know from your English class who doesn’t understand why people argue with her so much.

FS Publishing spoke first about a revolutionary method for publishers wading through a slush pile. Right now, editors are the first line of defense, using qualitative methods to decide what to acquire.  Then the manuscript goes to marketing, where they use more qualitative analysis (are vampires trending?) to judge whether a book will be successful.

FS wants to switch the order of the process. Instead of subjective and only occasionally helpful editorial comments at the end of a manuscript, the FS platform allows readers to rate the submissions with a happy face, medium face or sad face. Then, when the votes are tallied, editors can read the culled works and decide what to pursue. One imagines will be a hard sell to editors who feel like they have already have given too much power to marketing. Then again editors may be happy just to still have a job.

Next up was Joyland, an online lit magazine for short fiction. The idea did not seem that revolutionary (sample question from the audience, ” So this is a literary journal that exists online and sometimes asks questions on Facebook?”). But the talk was snappy and presenter Brian Joseph Davis pronounced words with a Canadian accent. Mr. Davis’ answers seemed to satisfy the crowd and by the time he got to the finale, a contest for best Twitter short story, the audience engagement was high (winner gets a kindle!).

Social Books’ Bob Stein, who we last saw listed as a “Visionary” at a publishing panel, presented next. Even if his visions for CD-ROM magazines haven’t quite come true, he is always going to be the guy who came up with the idea for the Criterion Collection and thought that movie buffs might just want to listen to a director talk about his work while watching that work.

Mr. Stein speaks in a soothing tone and seems generally knowledgeable and insightful (they don’t call him a visionary for nothing). It’s all about teaching people new behavior. “I have never had anyone say ‘this is yucky,’” said Mr. Stein. “Only ‘give it to us better.’”

Last was Evan Ratliff of The Atavist, clearly the star of the show. His company publishes original longform non-fiction to the iPad, Nook and Kindle, sharing the proceeds with the authors. “We are in between a magazine and book publisher so there is no word for it”

If you use the Atavist on the Kindle, you’re kind of missing the best part, the multimedia component. An article about a Swedish bank heist opened with footage from the actual heist, which Mr. Ratliff said was better than any lede he could write. The future of print is video.

After the Q & A, there was an informal line to talk to Mr. Ratliff as people finished their beers and waited until they got kicked out of General Assembly. Cliques and Clicks at Evening on the Future of the Book