Sorry I forgot for the past week that I have a blog. Wasn't intentional.
Anyway: I just finished reading a great book with a not-great title. "And Then There's This," by Bill Wasik. From the title, do you have any idea what this book is about? Anyway, the subtitle helps: "How Stories Live and Die in Viral Culture." It's about the stuff that everyone links to, why some things take off and some don't, and how to think about marketing in the Internet age. More specifically, it's about a bunch of experiments in viral culture that Wasik played around with -- starting flash mobs, creating a fake backlash against a hipster indie rock band, building websites that would spread like wildfire, etc. It's a smart book. Plays right into the kinds of stuff I like to think about and read about. Wasik somehow gets it exactly right, I think, as far as his overall thesis-- we live in a media-dominated world where every ten minutes, something new is going to hit, the word will spread, and it will just as quickly die, only to be replaced by something else. So many of us are spending so much of our lives online, reading, consuming that it's inevitable things will grab us, and explode. Figuring out why some things explode and some don't, and whether you can engineer the system-- that's the fun part. I don't think I could recommend this book more highly.
Which is why it's sort of funny that for all of Wasik's relatively successful efforts creating ideas that spread, which he talks about in the book, the book itself has spread pretty darn poorly. There are 7 amazon reviews, and it's ranked #191,302 on there. I've found a few reviews online (mostly positive), but, really, there's not much out there.
This is interesting to think about. Because the book is good, and Wasik has established success finding audiences.
Part of me wants to give the easy answer -- spreading a link online is free, buying a book isn't. The online "audience," as I certainly discovered with Anonymous Lawyer, is of course going to be bigger than the audience willing to spend money on a book. Of course.
But that can't be all of it. Is it that the audiences are in fact completely different? Well, I don't know about that -- I can't imagine that amount of time spent reading things online doesn't correlate at least slightly positively with number of books read. Sure, there are definitely book readers who don't spend time on the Internet, but if you compare someone who's reading things and following links online, versus someone who's reading nothing -- I have to expect the people reading online are also the ones more likely to be reading offline.
Is it that books about Internet culture are doomed to fail because they're in the wrong format? I wrote a few weeks ago about Scott Rosenberg's book on the history of blogs, Say Everything. Also excellent. 9 Amazon reviews, ranked #105,624.
Are certain topics book-worthy and some just aren't? I'll admit, Wasik's book wouldn't suffer it were a long essay online. The links would help-- I've gone to the computer a few times while reading to see if I could find more about whatever he's writing about. There are certainly compelling e-book features I could picture going along with this-- except I don't think anyone's making e-books with unique features rather than just dumping the text into ePub-format.
I'd sort of love to have this conversation on a bigger scale-- to talk to other people who've written books about or based on Internet kinds of things-- and see if together we could figure out not only why the audience isn't there, at least in numbers approaching what we can build on the Internet, but whether there are any answers or broader lessons to be learned about the future of books, the future of blogs, the future of content, I don't know.
Not quite sure how to go about that-- if I got an e-mail from an Anonymous Lawyer reader asking me why I think my book (though it sold nicely, and the reviews were really quite unexpectedly positive) didn't approach in sales the number of people reading the blog, and whether I want to talk about that, I'm not sure how inclined I would be to give it a real response-- but maybe by throwing this post up there, it will find its way around somewhere and I could have that conversation with someone interested in having it.
OK, so the book is recommended. Check it out.