The estimable Alex Steffen, founder of Wordchanging.com, has recently announced a new project – Carbon Zero: A Short Tour of Your City’s Future – which he’s attempting to fund through the crowdfunding site kickstarter. This is a really interesting idea and something we’re keen to investigate ourselves, having had some small success with our own Alpha Club crowdfunding efforts. I wrote last year about investigating the ways in which crowdfunding could be linked to forms of rapid publishing like bookleteer’s short run printing service to make it even more accessible to people who just want to produce a small number of books without having to bear all the costs up front.
Alex’s project is on a bigger scale than this, and suggests a very different approach to the problem of funding the time required to research and write the books, not just print them. This has some obvious and interesting implications for publishing as a whole, and for other creative endeavours as well. The concept seems so simple – the people who want to read his book also pay for the writing of it – but which has some other subtle implications. Usually we buy books (or other media) after the fact of writing – the burden of supporting the artist or writer is usually absorbed through some form of patronage (via public grants or private sponsorship), or through the personal dedication and effort of the individual themselves. But asking the readers to pay for more than the cost of the book, to support the very effort of making is to ask people to become part of the process. It establishes the possibility of creative work being seen in dialogue with others, as a craft, not just as something which appears magically from an aloof and remote genius. More and more the previously mysterious and detached processes of creative people are being acted out in ways that allow others to take part in some way or be witness. It is an empowering and transformational process that I believe gives hope to others that their own forms of expression may also have value. This is not about the distinction between amateur and professional or high/low art – tired debates now – but about that scope for the craft, skill and impact of creative people to be seen in relation to the work of others and valued in new and meaningful ways.
bookleteer is part of a toolset we have been building for more than a decade for public authoring and to enable cultures of listening. These tools are sometimes techniques which we develop to help people combine other media, to figure out how to create their own tools as much as use ones we may have introduced them too. What Alex is demonstrating with this project is not only how to use such tools, but how to create a community around the process of making too. With our new programme of projects, Public Goods, which we start next month too, we are hoping to engage people in similar processes of taking part in the construction and sharing of cultures and cultural artefacts that they value. Our new series of City As Material events in towns across the UK and abroad will be an important part of setting the frame for this kind of dialogue and collaboration, and perhaps a way for us to explore crowdfunding in direct collaboration with the people who want to contribute and participate.
Alex is aiming to reach his goal or raising $10,000 by Earth Day, Thurs April 14th – he’s more than 50% of thew way there (at time of writing). I do recommend supporting him as the results (judging from the wonderful 2nd edition of the Wordchanging book just published) are bound to be great.