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This is the fifth post of “How We Will Read,” a Findings interview series exploring the future of books from the perspectives of publishers, writers, and intellectuals. See our kickoff post with Steven Johnson here.
Kevin Kelly is a scholar of the future. There seems to be no better way to encapsulate his myriad intellectual endeavors, which have sought to explain the new economy, technology as an extension of the self, and the mechanisms of complex organization. Even the creators of The Matrix recognized his brilliance — they made his book Out of Control required reading on set. It’s impossible to speak to him without it realizing that you are talking to someone who has a wide and incredible knowledge of the world. A humble and extraordinary man, Kevin has so many ideas for the future, he doesn’t quite know where to put them all.
Currently, Kevin maintains an active presence on his website, KK.org, where he blogs on several different personal projects he is pursuing, including the sequencing of his own genome and incisive analysis of gadgetry. A founding editor at WIRED and prolific writer of nonfiction books, Kevin’s explorations have never been far from text. So that is precisely what we wanted to ask him about. And who better to ask about the future of books than a scholar of the future?
You’re posting your book New Rules, New Economy in blog posts over the course of a couple of years. I noticed that the posts are formatted in a way that makes them seem annotated. Can you tell me about that?
I long ago got in the habit of marking up books as I went along — talking to it, marginalia, dog-earing, all that kind of stuff. I’m an active reader, and I mostly read to write.
This project is a recycling of that book. When the book was out of print, I decided to re-issue it as blog posts page-by-page. I had some heuristics, and my assistant Camille went through the book. It’s her work. There was some emphasis elements that we decided on, and on her own judgment, she followed through emphasizing in more than one manner.
I have had an idea of actually republishing the book in paper in the kind of annotated way. That was inspired by Tom Peters, the business guru, who does these books where he has a kind of kinetic typography. I always liked that, so I thought I’d try to imitate it here.
Why post your book as blog posts at all?
I’m so far onto the left of the copyright issue. I believe that the natural home of all creation is in the public domain. I believe that is naturally where it wants to reside. I think that works enjoy a temporary moment where they are monopolized and you can charge for them, but they’ll revert back to the free. So putting it out free was basically my habit. I believe — I’m not sure — but I believe I was the first person ever to put an in-copyright, in-print book on the web for free. I happened to have owned the digital rights. Because when it was contracted in 1989 or 1990, nobody knew anything about digital rights.
I don’t think my publishers even know. I just decided to do this. I have no idea whether I own the digital rights or not. I’m no longer even concerned about how many books I sell. I’m really concerned about how many books people read. I’m almost willing, right now, to pay people to read my books.