What the hell is social publishing?

I’ve been reading a lot of posts over at Soapbox Included lately. The site’s author, a guy by the name of Brandon Mendelson is attempting to carve out a cyber niche for himself as a social publisher.  And of course, being the pyschic fellow that I am, I can read your mind right now. You’re thinking: What the hell is social publishing?

According to Mendelson:

“Social publishing is defined as any form, new or emerging, of online content creation. A social publisher is not a blogger. A Social Publisher is someone interested in using social publishing to create a successful, financially healthy, and honest career for themselves.”

This is a good start, but it’s still a bit vague. It sort of reminds me of the old Taoist koan in which the master set a pitcher of water on the floor and asked his disciples, “What is this?” One of the smug, self-impressed students immediately answered “It is not a shoe”,  at which point the teacher began thrashing him. A shy student then walked up to the pitcher and knocked it over, which was the answer the master was seeking.

Mendelson’s definition reminds me of the first student, he is primarily defining what social publishing is by telling us what  it is not.

Jeff Whatcott of At First Light offers an expanded definition.

“Social publishing is a blend of three categories:
1) web content management
2) social software (blogs, wikis, social networking platforms, forums, etc.)
3) web app frameworks”

This is better, but still doesn’t really give us the full picture.

The best definition, from Loudpoet’s interview with Soft Skull Press publisher Richard Nash:

“‘Social (publishing)’ is taking the book and making it much easier to have a conversation with the book and its writer, and have conversations around the book and its writer.”

Social publishing  is about making publishing a two-way street. It means providing the reader with a direct channel to the writer to offer feedback, ask questions, and have conversations.  We’re already seeing a lot of this on the Web, via comment sections, polls and email the author links.

What’s interesting to consider is how this form of publishing will affect media forms that have remained unchanged for decades, even centuries. While I have a hard time imaging the Kindle taking the place of actual books, it will be interesting to see how authors adapt to a growing call for accessibility and feedback.

Of course, with some authors (JD Salinger comes to mind), feedback and critical reception matter not at all. For others, however, Chuck Palahniuk for example, encourage and even foster conversations on their work. Palahniuk’s fan site, The Cult, which grew from an unofficial fan site to an official writer’s site, promotes discussion on themes and topics of his work, no doubt stroking his ego at the same time 🙂

In summation, social publishing is the logical progression of the social networking generation. We’ve become accustomed to sharing our opinions and feelings with the world, and it’s only natural that publishers would get in line with this. It will be interesting to see what happens in the future, but in the meantime, I suggest you keep up with Mendelson’s site, it’s got a ton of interesting and useful information.


9 responses to “What the hell is social publishing?

  1. Cool, Brian, glad that helped. I don’t think I grasped as I was saying that that I was truly seeking a definition, but I do agree with what I said, for the next little while at least!

  2. Pingback: Social Publishing « Red Sofa Literary

  3. I would have questioned that Zen teacher. The more correct answer is “It’s a water pitcher.”

    Or maybe drink it and say “It is empty.”

    One of the two.

    • Brian Frederick

      Haha, I don’t really pretend to understand those koans, but by tipping over the pitcher the second student showed it as a vessel for holding water. Though I agree, yours definitely make more sense. 🙂

  4. Hey Brian,

    There are some great points here. The next time I revise the SBI pages I will make sure to update the social publishing definition I have and see if I can improve upon it based on what I’ve read here.

    Nice work.

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  7. Have you thought about using your post as the basis for a wikpedia entry on social publishing? If not, do you mind if I do?

  8. Great post. I wonder, now that we’re almost a year on, if there are any new definitions of social publishing floating around.

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