Instead of talking about new book publishing models and moving incrementally within or slightly without its walls lets try something else, place ourselves in a space completely *inside* the space where content is as far as feasibly possible free (libre) – one such space for this I would like to call ‘federated publishing’.
Federated Publishing is not a ‘model’ it is in fact a network of models – enabling multiple approaches of content production, distribution and consumption. It is a space enabled by four core elements – digitally networked corpora, interoperable libre licensed content, federated open book production and ‘publishing’ platforms, and people. It is a space that enables traditional established book production techniques but fuels new approaches which are radically different – a space where books have no authors, attribution is not really anything anyone cares about, quality is high, books live – constantly updated and improved, books magically migrate across languages, high quality text books are produced in exceedingly short times measured in minutes, hours or days, books have no publisher but multiple channels and multiple contexts, content is shifted between contexts rapidly and easily, people get paid, reputations get made, economies exist.
This is not pie in the sky. This exists now. FLOSS Manuals has inadvertently found itself tinkering inside of publishing for the past 5 years. We have broken many established practices because we didn’t know any better. We have developed tools that don’t imagine a future but were built to provide sensible pathways to what we wanted to achieve. We now surface after 5 years of this, look around and realise we are simultaneously inside and outside publishing. We articulate this as ‘Federated Publishing’.
Federated Publishing is a term born from Federated Social Network jargon, which itself is born out of a need to transform proprietary network services into a modern Free Software critique. Federated Publishing is not in itself a critique, it is an active and vibrant practice – but it is born from this ideological legacy.
Publishing is trying to invent a new proprietary future. This proprietorship is to be taken in the broadest possible understanding. It is not just a question of closed copyright finding new distribution formats and economic models, it is a question of domain branding strategies within free culture and the unwillingness to make content interoperable on a technical, legal, or social cultural level.
We are tied to the need to tie ourselves to the content we produce. We enable the commit bit whenever we can by default and it is a tiring and resource consuming strategy that retards the development of culture and knowledge.
Federated Publishing is a future we are working in now at FLOSS Manuals. We actively encourage anyone to make a book, chapter, edit. We encourage anyone to fork a book, take it to their own domain, translate it, reuse it, break it, voice multiple discordant positions and concerns within the same covers, break the use of ‘I’ as a dominant identifier for a single individual author, take the book without changing a word and make your million. No problems.
We aim to generate federated interoperable corpora enabled by common sense technology and an increasing consciousness that a book is ‘ours’ to do as ‘I’, you, them, or we want. We are starting with free manuals and aim to provide an example of what is possible within and between domains.
We currently work like this. All the content is free, we use one license to increase interoperability and we discourage talk of licenses to encourage productivity, we provide all the tools we make for free and make it easy for you to take anything you want from us. Our website templates, books, community, platform… whatever you like.
In this environment books transform – they migrate across contexts, they are translated, they are kept alive, they are used the world over to help people learn about free software, they are of extremely good quality, they provide economies for those that wish to pursue the seemingly radical practices.
Sound impossible to have an economy here? Another free culture revolution without a strategy to pay the rent? Consider Marshall McLuhan’s astonishing vision :
“Instead of going out and buying a packaged book of which there have been five thousand copies printed, you will go to the telephone, describe your interests, your needs, your problems … and they at once Xerox with the help of computers from libraries all over the world, all the latest material for you personally, not as something to be put out on a bookshelf. They send you the package as a direct personal service. This is where we’re heading under electronic conditions. Products increasingly are becoming services.”
That was not a vision of the internet, it is a vision of the book. The internet does not work like that. Books can. This is the way I have paid my rent for the last two years. By making books that are an accumulation of everything that you need in a book. There is one major difference and something that Marshall Mcluhan may not have interwined into this thread – the net has brought social production networks to a scale that the person on the other end of McLuhan’s phone line is an asynchronous network of people you have never met, and is even you. You make books with others, you decide what a book is and what goes in it, others add ideas and content that either you cant produce or cant produce in time. 100% original source books are created in days. Others in minutes.
People pay for that. They pay for you to help them do that. It is the beginning of Federated Publishing services, it is the end of nothing.