blog to book

Crowdsourcing a cookbook: food52

Eoin Purcell

Cooking Light (Explored) by Flickr user Steve Wampler

Cooking Light (Explored) by Flickr user Steve Wampler

This is a nice idea
You now there must be something funky going on when Techcrunch reports on a new crowdsource cookbook initiative. Even if it is from Amanda Hesser (Wikipedia & Twitter) and Merrill Stubbs (Twitter), two pretty well connected folk. The site is called Food52 and right now it’s just a landing page and a sign up*:

The site and the book will appeal to anyone who ever wanted to write their own cookbook but never had the time. But it won’t be a free-for-all. Hesser and Stubbs will make editorial decisions with give-and-take from the site’s members. To guide the community, every week two themes will be presented which will act as a call for recipes. This week’s themes (they are really assignments) are “Your Best Grilled Pork Recipe” and “Your Best Watermelon Recipe.” Anyone can submit their favorite recipes, along with photos or videos. Then Hesser and Stubbs select the most promising ones, test them, and choose the best two for each theme. They present these back to the Food52 members, who get to vote which one will make it into the cookbook.

“There is a huge tradition of community cookbooks, but none of them are user vetted,” says Hesser. Users can take part in creating the cookbook by submitting their own recipes and helping to edit the submissions through comments, ratings, and votes. (Recipes can be flagged if someone tries to pass one off as their own that is actually from another cookbook). Anybody who submits a recipe selected as one of the two finalist recipes each week will get a free copy of the book along with cookware tailored to their recipe.

The iterative process should bring hardcore foodies and fans of the authors coming back every week. By the end of the 52 weeks, Hesser and Stubbs will not only have the recipes for their cookbook, but also a built-in and built-up audience already sold on the book. It won’t be just a cookbook, it will be an artifact of their participation.

But it’s still in beta
I’m not keen on announcements and PR in advance of a website opening to the general populace. When will people stop doing that, wouldn’t a page of text explaining the site be better, especially when there is so much information already out there? Maybe a picture of the authors, a short bio, some links and scary concept but given that it’s a video site, maybe a video? I mean seriously! Still even a google search reveals some more juicy morsels.

Serious Eats (my current favourite foodie site) for instance offers is links to a tour of the kitchen and videos from food52 on vimeo:

But what really caught our eye today is that Hesser and Stubbs seem to have quietly started uploading to a Vimeo account, which is full of what appear to be test videos—along with a couple great nuggets: an introduction to the Food 52 concept, and a video tour of Amanda Hesser’s envy-inducing kitchen—complete with the now-customary refrigerator-baring.

The entire project has a nice sense of buzz about it in the publishing world too, coming as it does with a book published by super-hip Harper Studio.

All told, I see good things coming from this. Having crowdsourced the content for a book published by Mercier last year, Our Grannies’ Recipes, I can guess at the problems they may encounter. Whereas Ourgranniesrecipes.com was very much a no money, seat of the pants endeavour, I like that food52 seems likely to be well funded and have the opportunity to expand the social and user content features that small investments allow.

Best of luck to them, I watch this space with interest.
Eoin

Authonomy Contracts Three Books From Members

Eoin Purcell

Strike me down
I have to say I saw this coming. After some recent bad press on POD issues, Authonomy issued an e-mail informing the community that they have contracted three books from amongst the huge slush pile of authors.

Coffee At Kowalski’s by Miranda Dickinson

Rosie is happy at Kowalski’s florists in New York – until her past catches up with her. Romantic comedy with a cast of memorable characters.

Reaper: Coming soon to a family near you by Steven Dunne

A combination of Silence of the Lambs and The Poet set in Derby. A long dormant serial killer strikes again and the hunt is on.

Never Say Die by Melanie Davies and Lynne Barrett-Lee

The incredible story of an exceptional life…

The subtle genius of Authonomy
Is that the author already has a profile page and an image, a book and probably some fans built up through the site community. Yes I think perhaps some people underestimated the potential of this digital slush-pile!

Intrigued!
Eoin

The Right To Fail – The Friday Project

Eoin Purcell

The Noise
The Friday Project’s collapse and the subsequent acquisition of some of its assets by HarperCollins has generated a lot of heat, much noise and precious little decent analysis over the last few weeks. I’m not sure I have much to add one way or the other.

It is a complicated subject because a good number of people are angry, and justly, because their work will go unpaid. Some authors have lost their publishing contracts and one creditor is owed the massive sum of £150,000.

I know some of those involved, not on the inside but on the outside, and I feel sorry for them. I also feel sorry for the folks that have been stung by the business failure too, it would be very hard not to be.

The Heat
Some are concerned at the reported expenditure and at the suggestion that they might have saved some of their creditors pain by wrapping the business up earlier. You only need to read the discussions on Clare Christian’s now defunct blog to understand this argument. (The blog is now deleted)

Frankly, the truth of that suggestion is not clear cut. Who is to say what is the best way to act when faced with business troubles. It is possible sometimes to trade out of a rocky patch, get new funding and move to healthy sales, pay back creditors and generally rescue a business, sometimes it is not.

I’m glad I didn’t have to make that call in this occasion. I don’t begrudge TFP’s efforts to find new funding and to try and trade through difficulties, though the suggested expenditure is alarming.

The Analysis
What The Friday Project represented to me was a willingness to take risk, in this case, perhaps too many and too expensively taken. They were one of the few companies that was happy to say that online content was good enough to make it mainstream and in doing so they uncovered some great writing and some quality authors.

They failed to be different enough though, not having a Unique Selling Point, something that marked them out as clearly better or different from major publishers or indeed other independents, not that that is ever a barrier to success in most industries, including our own.

You can diss the effort, decry the fact that people will go unpaid and call the principles any name in the book, but at least they tried to shake up the medium, gave their efforts to the goal.

The wrap up
I say well done and hard luck to them and to their creditors. I wish, for all of them, that it could have ended better than the way it did and I hope never to have to face the extreme difficulties that a trade partners failure can impose, but I look forward to seeing where the TFP people go from here and how their efforts progress in their new surroundings which will, no doubt, present their own challenges.

Increasingly risk averse (at least this week)
Eoin

Planning for 2008

Eoin Purcell

Overambitious

So I foolishly announced that I would lay out a plan for blogging in 2008 in response to Bloglily’s tag. Thinking it over it sure offers a challenge. Such a big challenge and the world being so terribly random and unpredictable* that I think I made a foolish promise. So I need to do something else. If I cannot predict the blogging year, I can at least offer some thoughts on what I see playing a role in my year ahead and about which I will probably be writing a great deal.

1) Digital projects & technology

– In the next few weeks Mercier Press will be launching one of its first major digital efforts. I’m not going to talk too much about it right now but the basic idea will be to capture digital content online and take that into print. It is an experiment for us and I can see the short term element proving to be a successful precursor to a much longer term goal for us.

– What is more, 2008 sees the start of something very exciting for Mercier. We will be launching our first blog to book product. The wonderful Murphy’s brothers from Murphy’s Ice Cream will launch a book that build on their blog Ice Cream Ireland and offers all Irish ice cream lovers what is going to be a very beautiful book. There will be more of these types of books in the future (not just from Mercier) as blogging makes real talent more visible and findable on the web.**

– These are not the only reasons I think this area will be a huge part of my year in 2008. If you have been following the links both on the blog and on my linkblog at Google Reader ***, you will have seen that these issues are looming large in my thoughts. If you fail to be inspired by these I suggest you check out a few of Snowbooks videos on using Onix data to make life easy. that ought to bring the point home forcefully.

– Mercier have just started the process of moving to an integrated system (Using Anko’s Publishing Manager). it will be tricky as so much of our legacy information is in people’s head and not digital systems, but once we have finished the process we will be in a great place to make much better use of all our content.

– And then there is this, e4Books, which will probably be honoured more in the missing of the target than in the achieving it.

2) Books: reading & commissioning

– Ha, I’ll bet you saw that one coming! The To Be read pile is now insane. Though again I’m feeling a little better about that (thanks NTT). I do try. I read a good few books this year but not nearly as many as I had hoped (closer to 60 than the 100 I had planned). Spending too much time online and reading for work perhaps.

– Of course the other aspect of books will be the process of publishing and building the list here at Mercier. 2008 is now more or less to bed and it is time to get cracking on commissioning 2009. It is nice to be in a more relaxed place with this commissioning but I am conscious still that the competition is hotting up in Ireland with the arrival of an Irish based Transworld office. This side will definitely make for an exciting year.

– And while we are on the subject of books, I need to mention that Litlove has just published one, The Best of Tales From The Reading Room (you can buy it here). A collection of her very, very fine essays from her excellent blog: Tales From The Reading Room.

3) Events & Trends: the unpredictable

– Who knows what will happen to prompt a blog post. Sometimes I have been inconsistent in covering topics here and I have no doubt that will continue. One area I know I have yet to really write much on is the effect that the iPhone is having on the world of mobile devices and online reading. Apple’s OS X has taken a lump of market share in this space very rapidly implying firstly that iPhone users browse the web more than the users of other smart phone/mobile computers and also that consumers are not put off by mobile internet they just want it to be user friendly.

– Here is a list of words that I suspect (but with no real level of confidence) that we will see much more about this year: Onix, Community, Digital Publishing, Online Reading, Ebooks, widgets, content, micro-chunking, CS 3, XML. Of them, for publishers I think XML is going to be the big one! But Community will be too. Just check out Authonomy and see what I mean.

So there you go BL. I hope that my lack of planning is up to scratch.
Pleased with the outcome
Eoin

* And my reading of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan is sure not helping me remain confident of my ability to predicate anything reliably, though it is making me much more comfortable with that. More of that soon when I finish the book and process my thoughts.

** Hint! Hint! Authors, start blogging if you don’t already!

*** Who also have a shared items page which I find a it confusing.

Cory Doctrow

Eoin Purcell

The New Quote
Above comes from this interview with Cory Doctrow on Kottke.org (speaking with Joel Turnipseed):

What Andrew Keen has got his pants in such a ferocious knot about is that we are losing our “culture.” Basically, if you unpack his arguments they come down to this: He thinks The New York Times did a pretty good job of figuring out what was good and he doesn’t like the idea that they’re not the only way of doing it and that it’s getting harder to figure out who to listen to and media literacy is getting harder and that means bad stuff is going to become important and that wouldn’t have happened if only the wise, bearded, white-robed figures at The New York Times had been allowed to continue to dominate our culture. That’s really where he’s coming from at the end of the day.

Quality,
Eoin

Hat Tip Rob @ Snowbooks

Penguin Classics: blogapenguinclassic.com

Eoin Purcell

Penguin Classics blog

This I like
Penguin updated their website. At first glance it looks good. By far the most exciting thing about it is their new Blog A Penguin Classic site. They gave me a free book. All I have to do in return is write a review on their blog. Way to a bibliophile’s heart:

Get involved with the biggest ever Classics blog, guaranteed to get the nation, and you, talking. Each of the 1,400 Penguin Classics is up for grabs and here’s how it works:

Sign-up, and if you’re quick enough, you’ll become one of the lucky people to receive a randomly chosen, FREE Penguin Classic in the post. Plus you’ll be the first to review it here, enabling the blog, and comments, to begin!

Each day, three new reviews will be posted, so keep an eye out for yours and don’t forget everyone can comment on a book once it has become active.

My book is The Waves by Virginia Woolf, a book I have yet to read so I am actually looking forward to it!

Watch out for the review
Eoin

Downright impressed with this: Feedbooks

Eoin Purcell

I was lead to this video & blog by the continuing debate I mentioned previously and which Mark Thwaite of the Book Depository (I love shopping there and intend to shop there more) continues on The Booksellers new blog section.

Now the system strikes me as like xFruits, a similar service that has launched to weak enough take off (perhaps it was a little ahead of its time/has a difficult time getting readership and thus publishers/has no revenue model attached). The site lists only 13620 xfruiters!

It may be an old idea executed well but it is very cool even so!

Which reminds me. You can find my own blog in a nice little PDF here.

Remembering the coolness of reading one’s own words on a nicely formatted pdf!
Eoin