New Technology Lets Readers Create Their Own Books


By Neal Comment

caroline-vanderlip.jpgOne of the first people I met when I arrived in San Jose last month for the O’Reilly “Tools of Change” conference was CEO Caroline Vanderlip, and we spent about an hour talking about her company’s business model, centered on providing a digital asset management system which enables creators to offer their content online to users who can compile it, add commentary, and publish it as a book. Exciting stuff; I kept leaping ahead in our conversation, tossing out ideas for chunking personalized cookbooks and short story anthologies from vast content databases, while Vanderlip patiently brought me back to the existing platforms, like a partnership with online obituary center that allows the bereaved to create personalized memorial books, or the a new “Blog2Print” widget, officially unveiled after the conference, which enables writers using the Blogger system to designate their posts as accessible for compilation. (She showed off some of the other possibilities earlier this year at a presentation at the DEMO 2007 conference.)

“Five years ago the publishing industry wasn’t ready for SharedBook,” she said of the company’s early attempts to get book publishers interested in its technology. “It’s only in the last 4-6 months that the industry has started to reach out to us.” Now, Vanderlip firmly believes SharedBook is ready to help usher in the next generation of publishing, alluding to several other deals the company might announce in the months to come. All of which, she’s careful to point out, are premised on authorized repurposing. “The user is in control,” she told me, “but the copyright holder is being compensated.” (XML tags allow creators to define explicitly just how content can or cannot be handled by SharedBook users.) So even if it turns out the big publishers remain slow to take the bait, bloggers might give up waiting to be discovered by a literary agent, open up their archives, and let readers choose their own favorite posts to bind together into a $20 paperback, then collect the royalties directly.