Publish then Filter: my business model of perpetual release dates

I love that turn of phrase from Clay Shirky’s still influential 2008 book, Here Comes Everybody.  Publish, then filter.  In the digital age, it means barriers to entry, costs, and content distribution platforms are all so accessible that the traditional mass media model of “filter, then publish” is no longer the norm.

Net economics have changed substantially over the last few years.  Today, publishing is no longer the exclusive preserve of an established publisher that curates and vets content over months or years until it deems it sufficiently polished and attractive to distribute it to a large enough market — thereby justifying its costs of production.

Authors like me can now get it out quickly, even if imperfectly, and then continue to revise, refine, often in concert with the very same people you’re looking to reach.

It’s how I manage my blog posts, and it’s now what I’ve done with Storyteller Uprising (it’s also how I produced my first feature documentary a few years ago).

I published the first section (around 35 pages) to Amazon Kindle and Scribd in February, directing my students and those who heard me talk on the subject to those resources if they wanted a more tangible take-away of my ideas.  Thanks to the innovative Espresso Book Machine at the University Book Store, I’m already on my second printed edition.  And I’ve just published to the e-book platform aggregator Smashwords, which has forced me to finally learn Word in order to create a universally acceptable file for Apple, Sony, and Barnes and Noble.  (I discovered that I have better mastery of the Final Cut Pro editing suite than convoluted word processing software that I’ve taken for granted for years).

Will I make money?  The simple answer is: it doesn’t matter, and I already have.

Let’s review.  Currently, I sell the book for $4.99 on Amazon and on Smashwords.  Readers can download the PDF at no charge from Scribd (interestingly, people still opt for the paid downloads, thanks to the convenience of platform compatibility with their tablet or e-reader).  The physical book sells for $10.

My primary motivation for creating and distributing the book is to package my ideas in a convenient media asset so that I may share them efficiently and credibly with others — especially after I give a lecture.  The book also forces me to be more rigorous and organized in how I present those ideas, which is always good.  I usually get paid for presenting those ideas, either because I’m a salaried employee of the University of Washington, or I’m acting as a guest speaker compensated through honorarium from outside organizations.  Any profit from books sales is icing on the cake.

But even as I barely announce Storyteller Uprising’s availability, I have sold copies at a recent event, a local marketing book club has made it its July book-of-the-month (apparently its being only 100 pages is a selling point to busy people!), and I’m taking a number of copies with me to talks I’m giving in  Seattle and New York this summer.  I’ll also print enough to give to each incoming student of our MCDM program as both a required text in my fall class, as well as a “vision piece” for our unique graduate degree (I call it a “manifesto” after all!).  UWTV, which is where I host my Four Peaks Media Space TV show, has reached out to me to investigate a nascent author profit-sharing model with me, where I could advertise the book online and on-air.

So, even without a publisher, because of my network and my public profile, I’m able to market the book in an effective manner.  What’s next?

I’m looking to create an enhanced e-book: something as interactive as Al Gore’s new Our Choice app for the iPad.  However, my challenges include that although I’ve got some great video (including our new Detroit film), I don’t have enough compelling assets to flesh out the book as well as Gore did.  On top of that, I’m not sure I can justify the financial cost to hire a developer to get it to that level either.  I certainly don’t want to fall into New York Times’ David Pogue’s categorization of what he normally gets pitched as enhanced e-book apps on a regular basis:

I must get pitched every other week on some “revolutionary” e-book app that claims to reinvent the book. That usually means it has a couple of video clips in it.

“Our Choice,” though, might actually live up to the boast.

So I’m investigating all my options, which might include turning the production of this component of the book into a student-assisted project (I may donate proceeds of the sales of the enhanced e-book to our program’s soon-to-be-established scholarship fund).

Even as I continue to consider these new platforms however, I’m also developing new content-related ideas for the book.  I’m beginning to sketch out the next chapter: one on the metrics of success in communication through storytelling.  More precisely, can we actually find a way to measure the emotional connection of the stories that we create and share?

If you can’t tell, I’m truly excited by the possibilities that these disruptive, highly responsive platforms present — especially for someone like me who believes in the ongoing, iterative process of digital media creation and distribution.  As I learn, develop, produce, I also share, distribute and take the product to market.  Publish then filter?  More like the digital equivalent of rinse, wash, repeat!


  1. While I am just as amazed at the production quality of the Our Choice app/book, it once again stirs up my unease at the app environment fragmentation. As both a librarian and a tech observer I would much rather see content created using open standards. I think HTML5 has the potential to create the same kind of immersive and interactive ‘reading’ environment without the platform lock-in.
    A good middle-ground option might be something like the Baker Ebook Framework ( that is built on HTML5 but can produce app environment compatible packages.

  2. I agree Corey. I need to find a more universal platform solution for mobile (ideally HTML5). I’ll take a look at the Baker Ebook Framework. We’re not quite in plug-and-play territory with this stuff, are we?

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