Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Mix Books Redux: March of the Penguin

Harking back to a September TSP post and a guest post from writer and one-time music industry executive Paul Vidich, the subject of assembling digital custom anthologies has once again come up. As Leon Neyfach reports on the New York Oberver's Web site, as part of Penguin Group USA's Penguin 2.0 initiative, in 2009 customers will be able to choose from stories, essays, poems, and other "standalone texts" to create custom-made collections, then print them on demand. The article goes on to say:

"Taking sites like AnthologyBuilder.com and iTunes as inspiration, Mr. Gomez said, Penguin hopes the 'Custom' program will tap into people's desire 'to remix a little and to shuffle their playlists.' He cautioned, however, that he 'would never want to break apart an entire book' and thereby render the full-length volume obsolete the way iTunes has done to the 74-minute LP."

Surely, he must know that if this catches on, it could well deconstruct short story collections. As I said in September:
"Getting back to the iTunes analogy, I was recently thinking it would be great if you could make your own anthology of your favorite stories, poems, essays, etc., and give it to friends in the form of a bound volume, the way you make a mix tape or mix CD. Call it a mix book (a term already taken)."
Could this be the tipping point? AnthologyBuilder.com seems to offer mostly science fiction stories written by little known authors. Penguin Classics has an enormous backlist, including a lot of short fiction by authors such as Sherwood Anderson, Ambrose Bierce, Kate Chopin, Joseph Conrad, Stephen Crane, Graham Greene, Thomas Hardy, O. Henry, Washington Irving, Henry James, Sarah Orne Jewett, Rudyard Kipling, Ring Lardner, D. H. Lawrence, Jack London, Somerset Maugham, Herman Mellville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, Gertrude Stein, Mark Twain, and collections by more contemporary writers including Dorothy Allison, Donald Barthelme, Saul Bellow, and Stephen King. Now that's a list worth reintermediating.