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This is the heart of the issue. When a movie is important, or resonates in our community, we hear of it. We might even go to see it. We certainly get sent a link about it or engage in a discussion. That’s partly because movies have broader audiences and partly because they’re easier to share and partly because they only make 400 biggish movies a year.
In 1976, Richard Dawkins published The Selfish Gene. If I had been informed, I would have read it the year it came out, for sure. If I had known about it in college, I would have read it, most certainly. But I didn’t discover it until I was researching Unleashing the Ideavirus, almost a quarter of a century later…
How is it possible that I lived for twenty-five years as an intelligent person interested in these topics and no one told me?
Actually, with 170,000 books published a year, how is it possible that anyone finds any book?
Since the real heyday of books as a cultural force, what we’ve seen is one medium after another getting better at spreading through the culture. And they’re leaving books behind. The challenge, then, is to re-organize the way books can interact so they have a fighting chance… a way to combine the innate power of the printed word with the viral power of the web.
This is the rubicon that book publishing must cross to survive. Books appear to be designed to be difficult to spread, completely in opposition to every other form of media, each of which are tuned and organized to benefit from significant word of mouth.
Sure, Amy Chua has shown up in the Times a hundred times in the last three weeks. But unless we’re going to publish nothing but self-destructive books by Yale law professors, the world needs a better approach.
Imagine a scenario in which a major movie with a star you care about comes and goes and you don’t hear about it… not likely. Books will never be movies, because they are micro, not mass. But the challenge (and the opportunity) is to reach the people who care, and to do it far more effectively, offering them books worth talking about.