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The Living, Breathing, Evolving Book: Why I Published My eBook On Medium

By Greg Muender , written on May 20, 2015

From The News Desk

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Greg Muender that originally appeared on Medium. The post went through PandoDaily’s usual editorial process and Mr Muender was not paid for his work. 

Imagine you just picked up your brand new luxury sedan. It cost you almost six figures, but boy is it worth every penny. It came with all the bells and whistles, and you didn’t spare a single expense — cutting edge technology, state-of-the-art features, advanced electronics and display.

There is just one problem…

The moment you drove it off the lot is the best it will ever be. From there, your car only becomes more outdated with each mile you drive and each day that passes. That is — unless the car you purchased was a Tesla Model S.

Tesla uses over-the-air updates to make your car better with time. When engineers discover bugs, or identify improvements in product design and functionality, they provide it to you, completely free of charge. Because so much of the car is software based, there is a tremendous amount of improvement that can be made without a single wrench turned.

Why would Tesla offer this for free — are they being unnecessarily generous? Nope. It’s just good business. Happy customers are loyal customers, and when that Tesla Model S is ready to be replaced, drivers are going to return to the automaker that has consistently provided them with delight. Current day customers also provide critiques and suggestions that improve the product for future owners. It’s a long term play that is only possible because of advancements in technology — nearly ubiquitous wireless connectivity, relatively inexpensive software, and hardware at rock-bottom commodity prices.

Technology has always changed the game, and it will forever continue to do so. When the printing press was invented by Johannes Gutenberg (I call him J Berg) in the 15th century, the world forever changed. Thoughts, ideas, and learnings no longer had to die with the person that held them. Knowledge could be spread far and wide like an unstoppable dust that found its way into every single crack and crevice across the globe. Over the next few centuries, the printing press brought us out of those goddamn Dark Ages and ushered in one of the most creative periods in human history — the Renaissance. We owe you big time, J Berg. High fivesy.

Half a millennium later, there was another revolution in printing — or should I say lack thereof — the digital book, or ebook. Because authors no longer needed big publishing houses to print books, book authorship became radically democratized via self publishing. Those who sported business cards that read “Author & Publisher” were able to connect with audiences both big and small, and even a casual writer could figure out how to carve out a niche and make piles of cash in the process.

The printing press was the bee’s knees for five hundred years. The ebook was pretty [email protected]^$ing cool, too. However, it’s likely they are both hampered by limitations. Here’s why.

Cast In Stone: Once a book is published, that’s it. There is no going back. There is no redo. Right or wrong, outdated or timeless, applicable or relevant, a book is a finalized selection of words, a snapshot in time. It’s especially true in print, but still even so in digital format. In an era of constantly evolving software products and iterating ideas, it’s a frozen curation of words that is unable to bend. Seems kind of silly, doesn’t it?

The Soapbox Problem: Some authors are experts, some are not. Some are spot on, others are full of malarkey. Whatever the case, the traditional paradigm of publishing a book has an unfortunate side effect — it becomes a platform for authors to speak at their audience, instead of with them. The incumbent mechanism mandates that readers listen without being able to contribute to the conversation.

When I set out to publish The Ultimate Guide To Medium, I wanted to eschew this limitation. With my sixty published stories, I had engaged in dialogue with my audience via notes. Readers had also written responses to my stories. In some instances, they refuted what I had to say. On other occasions, they vehemently supported my story. Medium is the platform that levels the playing field and allows me as an author to start the conversation, but not at the expense of empowering others to finish it.

Medium shook up the blogging space in a great way, so why couldn’t the platform be used to introduce some new concepts for writing and reading an ebook, too? Why can’t a book be a living, breathing, evolving thing? Why does it have to become irrelevant as time passes after publication?

Once purchased, The Ultimate Guide To Medium is actually consumed right from within Medium itself. I did this for a number of reasons that make for a really awesome reader experience. Mostly, it means that when I discuss certain features, I can display them right then and there for the reader to see. Take highlighting, for example. It’s really easy to describe it when I can actually use it. Publishing a book about Medium on Medium really puts everything in context. Plus, unlike a Kindle/iBook/PDF, readers can make comments on specific sections of the text, and I can answer them for all to see. Plus…

Idea Fluidity: Let’s not place ideas and concepts in isolation and quarantine them from exposure to others. Let’s not surround ideas with immobile and immovable brick walls. Instead, let’s allow ideas to procreate with each other and produce idea offspring. Let’s create environments where concepts collide and see what happens. Let’s dare authors to accept being wrong, and encourage readers that it’s great to show why they are right.

Constant Evolution: Based on reader feedback, I’ll make updates and edits. Consider this a “book-as-a-Wikipedia-page.” Ultimately, I have sole publishing authority, but my readers will have a material impact on the content and shape of the book. Over time, the book gets better, not worse. Updates give me an opportunity to reconnect with my readers. I can send them an email and say, “Hey, it’s been updated!” They’ll appreciate that. Slowly but surely, I’m building my brand by wowing my audience.

Engagement: I want to have a dialogue with the community, not speak at them. Readers should be afforded an opportunity to provide feedback, to ask questions, or to provide opposing viewpoints. In my book, I engage with my readers right in line . Sure, you could always send the author of a traditional book an email or a letter or a fax or whatever. But the conversation is private, removed from context, and often lethargic. I want to talk with my readers publicly, in near real time, in a highly relevant setting. Medium powers that wish.

Closing The Loop: I quoted a few dozen people in my book. However, I didn’t need to spend hours tracking down their contact information to thank them. I just attributed them from right within Medium. They then became an active participant in the storyline itself.

Feedback: Perhaps your book is a dud. Or maybe it is a smashing success. If you plan to write another one, how will you know what parts were liked, and which ones were not? Better than just cryptic reviews, Medium encourages your readers to leave feedback right in the relevant place. Instead of getting a binary review of your book — either good or bad — you are getting highly granular feedback you can use to improve.

Versioned: My book is not a static resource, but rather a dynamic one that I hope to update periodically. It’s just version 1.0 in what are ideally many more releases to come. The way I am treating this book is that it is very much iterative. It’s going to change and evolve and grow as the community expresses what they are interested in.

As I’m writing this very story, there are parts of the book that I need to revise. Just in the week since I’ve published, Medium has rolled out a few product releases that make what I previously wrote a tad dated. If my book was in print form, there would be thousands of copies floating around the country with entire sections that were no longer useful. Even in eBook form, it’d be a logistical nightmare to update the book and submit new versions. With Medium, I’ll be done in under an hour or two, and my audience will immediately have access to the new information. For free.

I want to consistently provide value to my readers. Whether they forked over $1, $10, or $100 for a collection of my words, I owe it to them to make the purchase a wise investment for years to come. When it’s time for my new book, they’ll remember the value I provided them.

Just like readers of my book, I invite you into an ongoing dialogue. Do you like the concept of reading books on Medium? Do you not? Tweet your thoughts to me. Let’s hear your ideas.

[photo by Sharon and Nikki McCutcheon]