In the foggy avenues of outer San Francisco, where the strange musky odor of the towering Eucalyptus trees along Park Presidio permeates the air, Brewster Kahle hosted a conference for a small number of people deeply interested in the convergence of books and the Web. The conference, called Books in Browsers, was heavy with talk of “social reading.”

Not once did anyone mention “social publishing.” But I’ve come to believe that we need to think about this concept before we turn so much attention to “social reading.”

So what does “social publishing” mean? I did a quick search and found no formal definition, but I did find this:

http://billboardsandcavedrawings.wordpress.com/2009/10/28/what-the-hell-is-social-publishing/

That includes, if you scroll down the page, a definition from one person I would consider authoritative on the topic, Richard Nash. From Loudpoet’s (Guy LeCharles Gonzales) interview:

“‘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.”

This is a decent definition that gets at certain key activities in the business of social publishing. The problem is I don’t think Richard’s intent was to define social publishing, but to define the term “social” as it applies to publishing. That’s different than the concept I’m trying to define.

Put simply, social publishing is concerned with everything that happens around a book after it has been sold.

To most people, this just doesn’t sound radical. But to those familiar with the publishing industry as it stands represented today by the largest American publishing houses, it should sound revolutionary. Because, you see, most publishers, especially those bound up most by the business of printing, packaging and shipping books, don’t care what happens to a book after it’s sold. Other people in publishing care — authors, editors, agents, publicists, etc. But when we say “publisher” we really mean the entity which is in the business of publishing things. Whether it’s one guy or one large company, the fact of the business is that the end goal of each book is to be sold. That’s as far as the process goes. And that’s the big problem today.

Social publishing is the natural evolution of publishing as a business. It encompasses the Web and all new digital distribution platforms, including the way people read and discover on them. It includes social reading, which is really just reading, an act that has always been social. Social publishing requires a deep interest and study of what happens to a text after it is disseminated — how readers interact with it, how they share it, how they copy it, how they talk about it — and it requires action arising from that deep study.

Since I’m still working out my definition of cloud publishing, I will also add that cloud publishing is most definitely a form of social publishing, and perhaps the best example of it. Cloud publishing is social publishing that dates its birth in 1993. If you think about this, and think about the digital-only production, distribution and consumption chain of the Web and the different motivations for publishing there and the interesting things that happen to content after it’s published there, then you’ll see everything that traditional publishers need to learn.

Those who date their enterprise earlier than that would do well to realize that what happens in, around and on the pages of a book after it’s sold are definitely matters of concern for future business.

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