In June I proposed an unusual way to distribute a box of galley copies of my forthcoming book, “Writing on the Wall”. The book is about ancient social media, so the idea was to mimic the Roman book-distribution system, which involved the passing of books along social networks. The Romans used scribes to copy books before giving them to their friends; I’ve agreed to send out signed replacement copies to participants in the scheme, to replace the ones they’re passing on. After my initial post 296 people volunteered to take part, and I selected nine of them using a mysterious pseudo-random process and some dodgy Excel macros. Then, in August, I sent out nine copies. One went to Australia; two to Canada; two to the UK; one to India; and three to the US. Each one has a message inside explaining how the experiment works, and inviting participants to document their sharing of the book on the social-media platform of their choice.
Shockingly, it seems to be working. Of the nine copies, four (in Australia, Britain and India) have been seen in the wild (ie, on Twitter) as their recipients have revealed that they are participating in the experiment. (The North American copies seem to be taking longer to arrive.) The recipient of one of the British copies, @wadds, tweeted that he was reading the book and, when he’d finished it, posted a review on his blog (thanks, Stephen). He then sent the book to @mediations in Malmö, Sweden. The other British copy went to @acotgreave, who tweeted a picture when it arrived and has since passed it on (as seen in this photo) to @DataRemixed at a conference in the US. In India, @chattychd read the book, posted this review on Facebook and then passed it on to his friend @vaibhavmehan, who is also in Chandigarh. In Australia, @kattekrab has tweeted some thoughts as she reads the book.
I tried plotting the movements of these four books on a map, but quickly realised that I was going to have to take some cartographical liberties to make it legible. So I took my cue from the London Tube map instead. The result is shown above. I plan to keep updating the map as the North American books appear and all the books continue to move around. I like the idea of using modern social media to track my recreation of one of its earliest forms. Roman publishing was all about social networking, and Roman books were a form of social media.
So if you want to read the book before it comes out, you can see who has copies of it and suggest that they might want to pass their copy to you next by consulting the map or searching on Twitter for #wotw2013. Participants in the experiment will get a free signed copy from me (until I run out of galleys, at least), but there’s now another way you can (sort of) get a signed copy, because this week my publisher Bloomsbury launched a book-plate offer. Pre-order the book and we’ll send you a signed book plate to stick in it. You can find the order links in the right-hand column.
In other book-related news, my TEDx talk based on the book, “Lessons from ancient social media”, was picked as TEDx talk of the day on September 6th. And the first formal review of the book has appeared: Booklist gave “Writing on the Wall” a starred review, calling it “a thoroughly fascinating look at the evolution of social media”.