A book, at least a successful one, has a great business model: spend a lot of time and effort writing, editing, and revising it up front, and then make money selling as many identical copies as you can. The more you sell the more you profit, because the work has already been done. Of course if you are successful, the pressure is immense to write another; the payoff, though, is usually greater as well: it is much easier to sell to customers you have already sold to before than it is to find customers for the very first time.
There is, though, at least from my perspective, a downside to this model: a book, by necessity, is a finished object; that is why it can be printed and distributed at scale. The problem is that one’s thoughts may not be final; indeed, the more vital the subject, the more likely a book, with its many-month production process, is to be obsolete the moment it enters its final state of permanence.
When I started Stratechery four years ago, with my 384 Twitter followers and little else, the thought of writing a book never crossed my mind; not only did I not have a contract, I didn’t even have a topic beyond the business and strategy of technology, a niche I thought was both under-served and that I had the inklings of a point of view on.
Since then it has been an incredible journey, especially intellectually: instead of writing with a final goal in mind — a manuscript that can be printed at scale — Stratechery has become in many respects a journal of my own attempts to understand technology specifically and the way in which it is changing every aspect of society broadly. And, it turns, out, the business model is even better: instead of taking on the risk of writing a book with the hope of one-time payment from customers at the end, Stratechery subscribers fund that intellectual exploration directly and on an ongoing basis; all they ask is that I send them my journals of said exploration every day in email form.
To put it another way, at least in my experience, the lowly blog has fully disrupted the mighty book: the former was long thought to be an inferior alternative, or at best, a complementary piece for an author looking to drum up an audience; slowly but surely, though, the tools have gotten better, everything from social media for marketing to Stripe for payments to WordPress for publishing to tools like Memberful for subscriber management. It became increasingly apparent, to me anyways, that while books remained a fantastic medium for stories, both fiction and non, blogs were not only good enough, they were actually better for ideas closely tied to a world changing far more quickly than any book-related editorial process can keep up with.
To be sure, I had discovered in 2015 what might have been a worthy book topic: Aggregation Theory. That, though, makes my point: the biggest problem I have with Aggregation Theory is that that old article I keep linking to is incomplete. My thinking on what Aggregation Theory is, what its implications are, and how that should affect strategy both inside and outside of technology and, particularly over the last year, potential regulation, has evolved considerably.
To that end, it is with relief I write the following article: Defining Aggregators. I’ll be honest: it’s more for me than for you; my thinking has evolved, and clarified, and I want to link to something that represents my point of view in 2017, not just 2015. That I can do so by merely hitting ‘Publish’ is a great thing: these ideas are very much alive, and I don’t really see the point of trees that are dead, literally or virtually.
Note: This article is meant as an introduction to Defining Aggregators; it is posted as a separate article as I plan to link to that article many times in the future