Innovation in Publishing: A Short Interview with Jan Van Mol

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A number of people these days are exploring new ways of publishing. Seth Godin has launched his Domino Project, Ted is doing Ted Books, and some time ago Alexander Osterwalder had some great ideas on Business Model Generation.

Today, Addictlab takes things a little further by experimenting with the business model for their publication Ideas for Greener Cities (see below). Already experienced with crowdsourcing publications through its network of ca. 4000 creatives, it now also allows customers to determine the price of the book they buy, by selecting the chapters and even the pages they are interested in (for more information click here.)

Curious about the background of this project I connected to Jan Van Mol, CEO of Addictlab and shot him a few questions.

How & why did you come up with the idea of a “select your own chapter” book?

I’ve been experimenting with customised publishing before. Years ago, I printed the Ad!dict Chaos issue on 5 (five…) copies. A ‘labmember’ in each continent received one copy. He/she could read, had to add his or her vision, and pass it on to someone else. We would receive the digital files, and offer the growing collection of chapters and content via our site. You then could create your own ‘Chaos’ issue.

Similarly, the Ad!dict ‘ Choice’ issue was presented as a collection of chapters and projects. You could make your own choice, and pay per project you added. Even the ADS in that magazine needed to be bought…. 

Both examples are still seen as best practices in the independent magazine world. For me, it’s been research that proofs our experimental approach and our medialab activities create knowledge for other publishers: I believe the future of publishing is in narrowing the gap between readers and the editorial board.

Do you think this is a trend we will see more of in the future?

I believe publishers will have to look for ways to have a better, closer, more intimate link with their readership, one way or the other. Readers need to become implied, publishing needs to become engaging. The problem is that most traditional publishers are not seeing the social media opportunities, only the threats.

How have reactions been so far?

We just launched it, and are waiting for the new Addictlab website to roll out the concept with more power. But with 40,000 pageviews and over 1;300 readers in the first week, I can’t complain.

If every publisher would start doing this, wouldn’t this mean authors get paid even less than today?

Why would they be paid less? The model allows for the right authors to be part of a content-project, meaning it increases the content-quality.

In our system, we offer the content browsable for free, meaning that the number of readers increases – which in a normal publishing surrounding would be interesting for targeted advertising money.

Also, the author’s benefit isn’t always ‘just’ being published. Their benefit might very well be getting their concept to the next level (note: see below). Next to that, we increase the readers service-level by offering the content in different ways, from affordable (read free) browsing to high quality print books. Even though on our small level, I believe big publishers could learn from our flexible content packaging.

This is in a way a crowdsourced book? Who are the people writing for it? How do you find them?

It’s not really people writing for it, as in writing being their daily job. It’s more a presentation of ideas.

With Addictlab I want to discover new talent and accelerate them. We are facilitators that get their ideas seen by third parties, be it industrial (commercial) or media (PR).

The ideal Addictlab book features concepts at the earliest stages of the creative process. The fact that we show it, should then be the next step towards execution or realisation.

I’ve been building up Addictlab exists since over 14 years, so we do have a database of creative thinkers – I believe we have visitors from 150 countries. Launching a theme and getting response from the community never has been an issue. The better the quality of the different outputs & platforms (site, magazine, book, exhibits) the more people want to be part of it.

Full disclosure: Jan is also a Futurelab associate, but even if I didn’t know him, I’d still consider the Addictlab project as an interesting experiment.