If we really believe that Information Wants to Be Free, in Stewart Brand's famous phrase, then why are some of the visionaries of the Information Age rushing to old-fashioned commercial publishing to broadcast their ideas? Could it be that they've figured out that "free information" means they can't make a good living publishing on the Internet so, not exactly practicing what they preach, they turn to commercial publishing to make a profit on their ideas about the Internet?
This question is raised powerfully by Nicole Ferraro blogging on Internet Evolution: http://tiny.cc/7dlQ3.
Ferraro includes a survey of Internet Evolution readers, asking whether they really read books about the Internet or even care. But then she asks about this oxymoron. Why write a book about digital technology? Here are some of her interesting thoughts, but I highly recommend her whole column, "Readers Say 'No' to Books About the Web." The title should more accurately be, "Readers [of Internet Evolution] Say 'No' to Books About the Web." But her points are thoughtprovoking and important as we try to figure out our digital future:
Nicole Ferraro writes: "When we pitched this poll, one of our readers, mathemagician, weighed in with what he thought was a better idea than publishing a book: "For something that is as fluid as technology, something like a Wiki makes more sense. The author can control content and users/customers can submit changes."
Ah, a Wiki! Or even, a blog, yeah? Very Tech 2.0. These are easily distributable and totally relevant places to write about the Web. People who love the Web (Jarvis, Anderson -- two great examples) should surely be on board with this.
But, alas, a Wiki hardly offers an advance, and there are no royalties or book parties. Otherwise, wouldn't Chris Anderson have written his book Free on a Wiki, rather than selling it on paper for a Price?
Which brings us to a central point (finally, a point!). That is, it's somewhat ironic that the very industry (print) that is said to be dying at the hand of the Evil Internets is where digital natives are running when they need to make a profit.
These Web giants may champion the blogosphere, or how just about everything can be said in 140 characters or less, or how it's all going to be free forever. But the basic idea that they write books about the Web at all serves as more nagging evidence that the Web is not, in fact, where the money is.
Now if you'll excuse me... I think I just got an idea for my first book."
Thanks, Nicole! And thanks to Siva Vaidhyanathan for posting the url for Nicole's post on Facebook.