Monday, June 27, 2011

The Blog, Considered as Book

I don't have any accurate estimate of the total number of words I have posted to this blog over the years, and am not sure how I would get one, short of copying the whole thing to a word processor and having it count them. But my guess is that it would come to substantially more than the word count of one of my books.

Which suggests an interesting possibility. Select out a suitable subset of posts, polish them a little, organize them a little, and publish them as a book. Think of it as a low work way of producing my equivalent of the four volume Orwell collection that I have commented on here from time to time.

At which point the next question is, "why bother?" The blog is, after all, already here. Anyone curious as to my extended exchange with Robert Ellickson, or my coverage of the Texas FLDS mess, or my recent views on self-publishing, can use the blog's search engine to find them and read them. Failing that, with sufficient patience, he can page through past posts; they are all there.

Which suggests that perhaps this will become the new substitute for a book,  at least for the sort of book that consists of an extended collection of essays.


Eric Goldman said...

If the California Reader Privacy law passes, you and I may need to make a judgment whether or not a blog is the legal equivalent of a book. Eric.

Anonymous said...

I recall that Blurb allows you to publish books from blogs by 'slurping' up your blog.

David Friedman said...

To Anonymous:

It was seeing a reference to that or something similar that started me thinking about this. But it looked as though the objective was along the lines of turning your blog into one or a few copies for your own use. At least, the price being offered looked more like the price at which you would buy someone else's book than what you would pay to have your own book produced for sale.

Ricardo Cruz said...

A group of Portuguese comedians did just that. They compiled their blog into a book, and titled it just that.

Marko Paunović said...

This may or not be very relevant, but we have made our blog
into a book (both in Serbian).

Few reasons for why we did that:

1. It has a far better structure. So, instead of going through posts by date, or by a tag, the structure with topical chapters makes a more pleasant and persuasive reading.

2. It is a selection of the best posts, so there is more "substance" in the average book article than in your average blog post. Also, there are no irrelevant posts (such as a series of your posts on finding the right cell phone :))

3. It was relatively easy to do. In a nutshell: copy all the posts into a huge Word file -> delete the bad ones -> think about the right structure -> copy the posts in accordance with the structure -> proofread -> print.

4. Publishing a book was a big deal for us and our blog.

5. Printed book is a good present. Our blog is also libertarian in nature while our country is no libertarian paradise. Some of our regular readers bought several copies each and gave them away as presents to friends and family with the idea of persuading them that these ideas make sense and are serious. The book is still perceived here as a more serious medium than a blog.

Tim of Angle said...

The argument for extracting stuff and doing it as a book is that there is more control over the presentation. Individual posts can be arranged into a thematic collection, or in the form of a "best of" grouping. It's actually more of a convenience for the reader -- you're saying "Here's what I have to say on X subject, and I've saved you the trouble of sorting through all my past stuff."

Anonymous said...

I searched your blog for "Ellickson" but the only post to come up was this one. I'd be interested to read an exchange between you two. Can you provide a link here in the comments to the relevant "extended exchange"?

David Friedman said...

Re Ellickson:

Brain fart; I was thinking of my exchange with Robert Frank. Do a search for his name.

My piece on Ellickson is an old review of his Order Without Law, an interesting book, which you can find on my web page.

Sorry about that.

William H. Stoddard said...

A century or so ago, the individualist anarchist Benjamin Tucker brought out Instead of a Book: By a Man Too Busy to Write One, reprinting material from his magazine Liberty, including, I believe, extensive excerpts from the letters of comment his readers sent him.

RKN said...

An interesting idea. I would like to suggest that comments relevant to the posts you choose to publish also be included in the book. Perhaps as footnotes, with appropriate e-attributions (commenter's name, e-mail, web site, etc.) noted in the bibliography.

David Friedman said...

It occurs to me that the increasing use of eBooks, sometimes read from readers that have a web connection, would make possible an interesting compromise. Convert your blog selections into a book, set it up as an eBook, and include links to the original posts and comments.

My Law's Order had a set of virtual footnotes along those lines, but they depended on the reader going to the book's web page to get at the links. I recently suggested to my publisher that they could do it as a Kindle version with the links included (I'm assuming Kindle permits that; I don't actually know, but it should), but I doubt it will happen.

Nathan said...

Eliezer Yudkowsky is doing something similar with his Less Wrong posts.

Tom Crispin said...

Is conversion of blog to book a form of vanity press? Moreso than blogging itself?

Anonymous said...

My favorite example of this is "Far from the Madding Gerund and Other Dispatches from Language Log."

Language Log is an excellent blog from Professors Mark Liberman and Geooffrey Pollum, but the book is better than merely having the blog and a search engine. Many of the best bloggers are prolific. As the reader, I have no way to search for specifically those posts that the author is proud of or that the author thought worthwhile to revise and reflect on. The chronological ordering of blog posts makes it hard to track when a blogger revises a post or even to know if the revision was important or minor. The book solves this problem.

I wish more blogs I liked would offer inexpensive Kindle versions of the author's very best posts. Richard Posner and Gary Becker may have adopted a good model with their book, "Uncommon Sense." Steve Levitt (writing on the Freakonomics blog) wrote: "It collects a few years’ worth of their weekly blog posts, adding reflections the two thinkers have had since the original posts, as well as an introduction that nicely describes the basic principles of their worldview." He added, "I only sometimes read their blog posts but I read nearly the whole book in one sitting."

Time is the biggest cost to reading blogs and the book (when done well) saves the reader time.

Jacob Rideout said...

To echo @MP - With the massive increase in data available - finding the interesting bits is harder than ever. Algorithmic approaches like google's search are great to harnessing collective wisdom (via links) for finding the literature on topics you already identified as as interesting - but there is much missing. This doesn't identify the best material, only the most popular. Most importantly context is missing and to the broader point too much effort to sift through. Well edited, curated and collected content provides a much higher bandwidth of information assimilation.

Anonymous said...

I would really enjoy your usenet debates in book format as well. It's a shame about the copyright issue.

Will McLean said...

John Scalzi has had some success repurposing his blog content as printed books.

I think the key observation is that someone who valued their free time at zero could get the same content without spending anything but time.

But there are a lot of people who value their free time higher than that.

Brandon Berg said...

Filtering. There are doubtless many people out there who would be interested in reading a series of new (to them) essays by David Friedman, but would rather not have to wade through a bunch of posts on your thoughts on the relative merits of various models of smartphones.

On the other hand, the problem with filtering is that anyone could do it. You don't really have much of an advantage when it comes to creating a list of your best blog posts. You could even be at a disadvantage. Even if you did, one person could buy the book and convert it to a page of links.

So you'd have to have some new content, but not nearly as much as you'd need for a book of all-new material. If you were to polish up the posts, expand on some of them, and write a few all-new essays plus some bridge material, I think you'd have a fairly marketable product.