Idea for a build-your-own ‘Consumed’ collection: Your advice?

Posted by Rob Walker on August 31, 2009
Posted Under: Consumed

From time to time people ask if there will ever be a book-form collection of Consumed columns. Whenever I really think about what such a collection would consist of, I’m confronted with a dilemma: The column has several quite disparate audiences. Which one would I have in mind when picking the columns to include? Or should I try to please everyone (which, as you know, seldom works)?

So I’ve been toying with a solution, but it involves things I’d need help with. Maybe it would be relatively easy, or maybe it would prohibitively difficult. I don’t know what I don’t know. I’m hoping to do the necessary research over the next month (although that may prove ambitious, given other commitments.)

My idea:

A build-your-own Consumed collection.

That is: Have a Web site (I guess) where there’s a sort of menu of past columns, sorted by topic. The reader could then pick and choose per his or her own interests. Want all the design-related columns? The ones that are more focused on marketing? On consumer psychology? Eco/green stuff? TheĀ  entrepreneur-focused columns? The ones dealing with more artistic or critical takes on consumer culture? Some mix of those things? Great. Just pick what you want.

Obviously some columns fit more than one category, but that shouldn’t be a problem. Also obviously, this idea would seem to work best for the e-book market, which I gather is still relatively small. (And I guess book-on-demand scenarios, which I know less about.) So it may be the front-end expense would outweigh the potential payoff. And I’m not sure how well this would mesh with the college market, where I know my columns get used a lot, so I guess I imagine that’s a market I should pay attention to.

There could also be a kind of “directors’ cut” physical version, with my own favorites (or the most-chosen columns from the pick-your-own menu?).

Anyway I’m floating this here to see:

  1. If any of you are aware of precedents or similar projects I should look into.
  2. If anybody has any advice on fining a person or firm of any kind that might be able to execute something like this. I have no idea if my notion is possible, or if it is, how expensive it would be. So any tips that might lead me to answers would be greatly appreciated. Or if you would pass this post around, that would be great too. I need all the research help & feedback I can get.
  3. Your overall thoughts about whether this is a good or bad idea.

Use the comments or email as you please.

Further diversion may be found at MKTG Tumblr, and the Consumed Facebook page.

Reader Comments

I like all the ideas, but as I love just holding books – real books – would favor the real thing. Director’s Cut perhaps?

Written By Susan Clements on August 31st, 2009 @ 1:29 pm

Oh, and P.S. If I can help in any way…

Written By Susan Clements on August 31st, 2009 @ 1:30 pm

How about an annual, collecting all the Consumed columns from that calendar year? Then you could collect them, like Architectural Digest or some cool design magazine and display them in your bookcase.

They would be soft-bound and maybe include additional commentary from you and the subjects, or related posts from your website (Director’s Cut) to fill it out and add extra value.

That wouldn’t be cost prohibitive I don’t think.

Written By Rick Liebling on August 31st, 2009 @ 8:53 pm

I’m in the same boat as Susan with liking to have my books in my hand, however I’m sure the digital market it out there. If this project were digital it sounds like you may be able to just create a section on your website that directs people to your most popular articles based off some kind of tracking you may already do (most emailed, most shared, and so forth). The reason I suggest using what your website stats already track (versus starting from scratch) is that once people find out about this, it may become more bias as your biggest fans begin to be your primary raters. If you use what you already have, then that may be a better read of the success of your articles – I imagine you track this right? You could also use that same rating system to create a print version where I imagine each chapter (say your 10 most popular subjects) could be dedicated to a specific category (marketing, consumer culture…) and maybe even make it a short and simple collection of your 10 most popular articles for each category. I know this sounds rather basic, but if I had a collection of your 100 most popular articles (regardless of the category) it would be a great resource for me. I vote for doing something in real print!

Written By Amanda Soto on September 1st, 2009 @ 1:04 am

Rob –
I think this is a neat idea, but I’m skeptical that it would take off in a big way. I can see it being very cool as a niche or alternative method for acquiring the book.

As for previous solutions, I’ve seen examples of PDFs assembled on-the-fly (in “realtime” to geeks). But that takes this away from the idea of a book, to more of an e-book format. I’d also be willing to help, but it seems like the publisher has to sign on in a big way.

I’m also wondering, what your objective is re: doing this. Maybe you really are trying to please everyone. I commend you…and if you succeed you can build that perpetual motion machine afterwards.

I prefer Susan’s term above: The Director’s Cut. Maybe you can do a DVD with outtakes. ;-)

Written By lee on September 1st, 2009 @ 1:48 pm

I guess it’s more or less sounding like I shouldn’t bother with this? I could do a traditional book with a traditional publisher (although I don’t know if that would really prove worthwhile, it would depend).

I thought this would be cooler, or maybe a cool adjunct. But now I’m kinda thinking maybe not worth the effort.

Amanda: Data about hits and all that is not something I track for the column, since it resides on the Times’s site and that’s their data, not mine. (Also I’m not actually sure that it would be a good indicator of relative popularity in the case of my column. I think the column’s online audience is a pretty minor fraction of its true audience.)

So anyway, thanks and I’ll take more feedback if anybody has it. We’ll see …

Written By Rob Walker on September 1st, 2009 @ 3:47 pm

OK. So, the Sartorialist, for example, has come out with a big fat book of pictures from the blog. How many years have you been doing Consumed? I personally would like to read the columns I’ve missed from years past. Who’s to say it wouldn’t appeal? Little old me believes it would.

Written By Susan Clements on September 1st, 2009 @ 10:10 pm

I haven’t given up yet! In fact I haven’t done any proper research. We’ll see, we’ll see.

Answer to the Q is Consumed started January 2004.

Thanks for the encouragement…

Written By Rob Walker on September 2nd, 2009 @ 2:26 pm

The technology probably isn’t here yet, but here’s what I’d pay for (and I’m afraid I’d also like it in book form). The consumer makes their own book by choosing the categories of columns you mention and then the book with those categories is the book the consumer has made themselves. If you had few enough categories, this is something that could likely be pre-made, i.e., the Consumed for Designers; Consumed by the Environment; Psychologically Consumed, etc. Maybe five different books. Though, I must tell you, the Directors Cut is probably the least ambitious and the most salable. I never thought I’d be interested in the way shopping centers are developed but in one of her collections of essays Joan Didion MADE me interested in them. This is the way the New Yorker works for (hundreds of thousands?) of readers every week: drawing them into a world of which they’re (we’re) ignorant and drawing us in by the power of the prose alone. So, at the end of the day and technology aside, I’d buy a Director’s Cut of Consumed columns. Best, Vickie Pynchon, Settle It Now Dispute Resolution Services

Written By Vickie Pynchon on September 8th, 2009 @ 11:06 am

I think if you do an online book vs traditional publishing, the audience will be more on the ‘cutting edge’ front and therefore the topics would also be more cutting edge eg design, green topics, etc perhaps not the articles that have a traditional bent, eg Walmart)

I also dont favor ‘choose your own’ as a format. I think if I am bothering to read someone’s book, it’s because I am interested in their point of view, or their editorialized snapshot of the world view that they are encouraging me to take a slice at. At least, that’s my opinion. Otherwise, it’s too much work for me to cobble together a list (and it’s like I did my own research) Every book like every product is in itself a story, that should invite me the consumer to take a look?

To pursue the idea of an interesting digitized look — might I suggest some of those interesting graphic artists (I saw some interesting designers at a recent panel — is one, I’m sure there are others)

Packaged up with a point of view would be an interesting format, worth looking at, and different than a traditional physical book.

Just my 2 cents!

Written By Irene on September 16th, 2009 @ 10:38 pm

Add a Comment

required, will not be published

Previous Post: