E-books are changing the nature of books. Printing on paper is expensive while pixels are cheap. This means more books for more readers at a lower cost.
An example of the change in books is Kindle Singles. These are short books or long-form journalism, depending on your perspective. Ranging in length from 5,000 – 30,000 words, this format lets authors connect with readers without going through the time and expense of putting out a print book.
It also means that stories which might never get published find an audience. For example, Buzz Bissinger’s followup to Friday Night Lights or the excellent book of writing advice from Ann Patchett. While Kindle Singles includes popular authors like Stephen King, there’s also room for the quirky memoirs of a Seinfeld writer.
Why can’t there be a Gov Singles program? In the wake of scandals like the GSA conference debacle, government needs to communicate its value now more than ever. What better way than short and compelling feature stories about your government at work? For example, a State Department expert could write a diplomatic history of US-Iran relations since 1979. That would certainly be timely and worthwhile. I’d love to read an architectural guide to federal buildings in NYC while visiting the city. And a nostalgic look at rural post offices would find a niche audience, I’m certain of it.
Think of the publications that government produces in the 5,000 – 30,000 word category, all the countless reports, newsletters, fact sheets and monographs. In many cases, agencies can no longer afford to print these reports. They sit in boxes, forgotten, one day to be thrown out. Why not make them free to the public, as e-books?
We have a massive Government Printing Office. It occupies most of a city block in downtown DC, plus other locations around the country.
Shouldn’t we have an E-Book Publishing Office somewhere? A small staff, access to the right tools and a creative spirit could do much to deliver information to the millions of e-readers around the country. Doing so would save money, save paper, and demonstrate to the public that government is responsible, modern and committed to keeping them informed.