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Writing In The Digital Revolution

As the news agenda goes into warp speed, it becomes ever more difficult for authors writing about current events to keep their books timely and relevant.
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As the news agenda goes into warp speed, it becomes ever more difficult for authors writing about current events to keep their books timely and relevant. Seismic events race by at almost weekly intervals: phone hacking gives way to the Norwegian terror atrocity, which is replaced by stories about the London riots and the world in economic meltdown.

The hyper acceleration of news is a result of the digital age in which we now live. No sooner will an author begin a book then the story will begin to mutate before her very eyes. This happened to me while I was working on "The Revolution Will Be Digitised," which will be published in the UK on August 18th. When I began my research for this book in February 2010, few had heard of WikiLeaks or Julian Assange. The speed with which WikiLeaks went from niche interest to global prominence was a real-time example of the revolutionizing power of the digital age in which information can spread instantly across the globe through networked individuals.

But how can an author of current affairs keep up with such a fast-changing landscape? Traditional publishers require an author to submit a manuscript six months in advance, and if pressed, no later than two or three. In these months, everything can change. To try and get on top of the news agenda, publishers can pull forward the publication date but they still require at least six weeks from the date the book comes off the presses to the date it is in book shops. In only a few exceptional circumstances can this time be reduced.

The digitization of information has revolutionized all sorts of industries from music and movies to shopping and finance. It has fundamentally changed the media landscape, so why not publishing? It seemed appropriate that as the author of a book about the digital revolution, I should look into publishing in new digital formats, so when RosettaBooks' CEO Arthur Klebanoff pitched the idea of a Kindle Single, I was intrigued. He wanted to take the narrative section of the book and edit it into a 24,000-word, stand-alone piece. Unlike traditional publishing where the author is advanced funds from prospective royalties, digital deals are done without an advance but with a higher percentage of royalties going to the writer. We agreed to try out this new digital experiment.

The real surprise was the speed with which it all happened. In less than two weeks from the time Mr. Klebanoff and I spoke, "Assange Agonistes" was proofed, laid out and available to download on Kindle. Of course, the timely work of writing and editing had taken place with the help of a traditional publisher but for a timely news story, I can't see how a writer of current affairs could beat the efficiency of e-publishing. It will certainly be my first port of call for future investigations.

The book trade may be in transition, but it is far from dead. Digitization is certainly challenging the old ways of doing things whether that's in publishing or politics. But it's not the end. In many ways, it is just the beginning.

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