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Sprinting through the pages

Berlin as a city is certainly open, but how about open source? We profiled four open source near-exemplars. Open source bookmaking is all in a week’s work for publishing revolutionary Adam Hyde.

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Photo by Tania Castellví

Bookmaking is all in a week’s work for open source publishing revolutionary Adam Hyde.

Adam Hyde holds up a handful of books from his shelf, each written, or “sprinted” as Hyde calls it, by a room full of 6-10 co-authors under his guidance in less than a week. A book in a week? Sounds crazy, right? “Well, we did three in four days once, but I’m not so interested in that extravaganza, more the dynamics of the room… In the past, I’ve been more or less greeted with scepticism, but a number of people involved, even academics, have come out of it saying, ‘Wow, we are amazed at the quality of what was produced, how it opened up new angles for us and how potential collaborations emerge’.”

The books are uploaded onto the web, some readable and downloadable for free, remaining open to edits, others printed on demand. Authors are paid a flat fee in advance, and Hyde encourages free licensing. Welcome to open source bookmaking, potentially the future of publishing. 

The sparkly-eyed 44-year-old travels the world, leaving his Neukölln home at the invitation of anyone who wants a book made quickly. “It’s nice to do this in, say, a rented house, outside of a normal working environment. The more camp-like you can make it, the better it is.”

It all starts with a post-it note session of ideas participants think should be in the book. Short sentences. Bold statements. “We stick them on a wall or window, and then start grouping. Conversations start happening and sometimes you see a book emerge.” As the facilitator, Adam has a pedagogical role that’s part structural guide, part manager of egos. “You are also listening for energy, you start noting who the alphas are and understanding the group dynamic. Some have stronger ideas than others. You have to get them to understand together what the book is. There’s no leadership hierarchy, just me,” says the long-haired, soft-spoken Kiwi. “I’m an absolute totalitarian.”

Formerly a digital artist, Hyde fell into the world of book sprinting by accident. “My career path has been quite haphazard, but the core is independent media.” In 2007 after a residency in Antarctica, Hyde decided he’d “had enough of the art world” and started FLOSS Manuals in Amsterdam, a nonprofit focused on free software manuals. This led to the birth of Booki, now called Booktype: a free, open source platform that produces books formatted for print, Amazon and iBooks.

“We needed a content production platform, and there wasn’t one. So we made one… it started off with just me and a wiki.” Having created an organisation and a platform, producing the content for online books came as the next logical step, and an extension of Hyde’s open source ideology. 

Like so many great ideas, the sprints were born from a misunderstanding. “My friend Tomas Krag said, ‘I’ve been trying to do these things called book sprints!’ He explained that they’d invited people together to London for a week and had written an outline, and then over the course of 6-9 months wrote a book and passed it through an editor, but I thought he said the whole  process had taken a week. So I organised a book sprint in Paris and got a bit of funding from Google because I was like, ‘Oh, of course it will work’ – and it kind of did!” Forty-five sprints later, Hyde is moving away from manuals and textbooks to more creative projects. “I think it could be applied to any genre… We’re taking Booktype to the Frankfurt Book Fair. The publishing industry is very confused right now, but they are just starting to see that they might need us.” 

Why open source? “It gives you autonomy, but it also opens up for another type of production which focuses on collaboration. Not enough people share – I mean, look at all these cars! Open source has that understanding of how to collaborate on something quite complicated, which is obviously going to become a more important part of everybody’s lives as we head towards the increasing scarcity of resources.” 

Hyde has dreams of training international facilitators to take book sprints global. So far, the model has been emulated by a handful of others, including impoverished schools in South Africa sprinting textbooks for their students, who then download them free to their mobile phones. To Adam Hyde, the world is an open book.

For more info: www.booksprints.net