The American Idol for Thinking People: The New Twist on Book Publishing

It was prob­a­bly only a mat­ter of time before this hap­pened. Accord­ing to The New York Times, Touch­stone, an imprint of Simon & Schus­ter, has agreed to pub­lish a work by whichev­er new writer takes first prize in a con­test spon­sored by the social-net­work­ing site, A la Amer­i­can Idol, every­day peo­ple and pan­el of experts will read and vote on the first chap­ter of books sub­mit­ted by every­day peo­ple.  And although the win­ner will need to sign the “stan­dard Simon & Schus­ter con­tract,” he/she will get their work fast tracked to pub­li­ca­tion and for­go the  has­sle of shop­ping a book. Also, there’s a $5,000 cash prize and the promise of pro­mo­tion at local Bor­ders’ book stores.

The under­ly­ing log­ic behind the con­test, called “First Chap­ters,” comes down to this: It’s ulti­mate­ly peo­ple who buy books, so why not let a good sam­ple demo­graph­ic (’s 175,000 old­er and more mature users) pre­view the sub­mis­sions, decide what they like, and save the edi­tor the effort of guess­ing what will fly. That makes a cer­tain amount of sense if you’re a pub­lish­er, work­ing in a slug­gish indus­try with nar­row mar­gins, who is always look­ing to max­i­mize the odds of putting out win­ners. How­ev­er, whether it will fur­ther the pub­lish­er’s mis­sion of bring­ing qual­i­ty books to our cul­ture is an alto­geth­er dif­fer­ent ques­tion, and the jury remains out on this one. You can get more infor­ma­tion about the con­test by click­ing here.

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  • Matt says:

    Good to see ‘big media’ suc­cumb­ing to the wis­dom of crowds. Inde­pen­dent projects like my own fea­ture film project A Swarm of Angels ( have already been push­ing this con­cept even fur­ther though, into the realms of par­tic­i­pa­tive media by direct­ly engag­ing and cre­at­ing new micro-com­mu­ni­ties.

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