On the surface, one wouldn’t immediately think of the t-shirt as a great model for web collaboration and community, often referred to, either fondly or derisively, as Web 2.0. But Threadless has managed to carve out an interesting niche, uniting designers, fans of great design, and t-shirt aficionados (many members are undoubtedly all three). For anyone unfamiliar with the site: designers submit designs for t-shirts, which are scored and ranked by members, and each week the site releases winning designs as limited edition t-shirts. The site provides ample means and incentives to participate: members post photos of themselves in Threadless shirts (for points), designers and members blog, comment, etc., Threadless sponsors contests and uses other means to attract and maintain interest. All in order to produce, and sell, t-shirts. (And now, naturally, spin-off products, like wall art, prints, and other merchandise.)
This makes me wonder how much of this model is applicable to publishing. There are already some entries into this, such as Harper Collins’ Authonomy, Smashwords, CompletelyNovel, Amazon’s CreateSpace. I haven’t seen any yet, though, that quite come close to the level of participation, excitement, and cool/hip level as Threadless. But I think it’s possible, and even probable, that someone will, sooner rather than later.
In the academic space, I find that Common Ground publishing, which runs the International Journal of the Book, has an interesting business model and process. They run ~15 conferences, on subjects in the humanities and science, each with an associated journal. When you present at one of their conferences, as I did in October, you receive a year’s access to the associated journal, and you can submit an academic paper to the journal. When you submit your paper through the journal’s peer review process, you also agree to peer review two to three papers for the journal. Common Ground also is able to implement a striking balance between technology (everything is submitted and approved online) and personal touch (you always have a sense that there are real people involved). They also encourage and offer opportunities for collaboration and participation.
My article on “Innovation and the Future of e-Books” was recently published in The International Journal of the Book. My premise is that the development and acceptance of e-books today parallels incunabula in the 15th century. The paper considers three examples of innovative e-books to illustrate the potential and pitfalls of electronic publications. This peer-reviewed paper is now available on the RAND web site (free download):