Today is the 200th birthday of author Charles Dickens, yet also an oddly appropriate moment to announce a new edition of my book Accidental Empires in a very 21st century format.
Late last year a reader pointed out to me that 2012 is the 20th anniversary of Accidental Empires which was, in its own way, a pretty influential book. Accidental Empires was my attempt to blatantly apply the breezy style of Adam Smith’s The Money Game to the personal computer industry. And somehow it worked, because the book was eventually published in 18 languages and was a bestseller in several countries including the U.S. and Japan.
The book was also the basis for my 1996 TV miniseries Triumph of the Nerds, which has aired in more than 60 countries.
My reader wondered why there wasn’t an eBook edition? Good question. The printed book technically remains in print, yet there is no eBook.
Well it turns out that eBooks had yet to be invented in 1989 when I signed the original contract with publisher Addison-Wesley, and there were no sharp-eyed lawyers working that day to claim all rights on all platforms, invented or yet to be invented. So the eBook rights are mine.
Now here‘s my dilemma. I could rip up a pristine copy of the “updated” 1996 paperback edition, run that through my Fujitsu SnapScan scanner, and have the bones of an eBook edition almost instantly. Or I could spend a year or more to update the book for today’s readers, adding pictures (the original book had none) and some new chapters.
We’re not talking about a work of art here, but this is a book that some people feel pretty strongly about. Dozens of company founders have told me over the years that they read it more than once on their way to the top (and sometimes back again). Hundreds of people have told me the book inspired them to find careers in technology or they used it to explain to their clueless loved ones what all the fuss was about. I could mess with the original text, sure, but doing so would surely upset someone.
And then it came to me — a whole new way to publish a new edition of Accidental Empires or any older but still popular book for that matter. In an eBook edition I could add new material yet give readers the option to read the original text as published back in the 90’s or an updated text for today or even toggle back and forth.
But wait, there’s more!
Here’s where Charles Dickens enters the picture. When his stories first appeared back in the 19th century, Dickens’ David Copperfield and Oliver Twist weren’t sold in bookshops, they were serialized in newspapers, unfolding one chapter at a time over weeks or months. The books came later.
I’ll do a 21st century version of the same thing, serializing Accidental Empires on the web.
So next month I’ll be starting a second blog with its own URL just for Accidental Empires. I, Cringely will continue right here as ever (no changes at all), but on the book blog I will over several months publish — a chapter or so at a time — the entire 100,000-word book for the world to read, free of charge.
Like most blogs, this new one will allow reader comments. And it’s those comments I’ll use in part to update the work when it later appears in eBook form. What happened to these people? What stories do you remember? Where did it go from here?
Once the entire book has been serialized, my friend and eBook expert Parampreet Singh (he of the Toronto Singhs, of course) and I will pick the best of these reader annotations along with several thousand words of new material I’ve been saving-up and publish what ought to be an enormous number of electrons — Accidental Empires Rebooted.
This will be, as usual, both a grand adventure and a crap shoot. To minimize our financial risk I’ll run ads on the new blog. But to avoid pitching adult diapers and electrolyte replacements alongside my life’s work I’d rather sell out the entire blog to a single tech advertiser like a Cisco or a Salesforce.com.
If you know any outfit that might like to participate in what should be an amazing publishing adventure, please pass it on.