The Frankfurt Book Fair has broadened its roster of activities this year with the inclusion of Sprint Beyond the Book, “a real-time col­lab­o­ra­tion among on-site authors and a global net­work of con­trib­u­tors to write, edit and pub­lish a dig­i­tal book in just 72 hours.”

The project is sponsored by Intel Corporation, and the event could be taken as a form of advertising. “The book will be cre­ated in a pro­to­type appli­ca­tion that demon­strates the poten­tial of a col­lab­o­ra­tive mul­ti­me­dia plat­form for pub­lish­ing,” notes the project’s materials.

“The reason we call this Sprint Beyond the Book is because we realize we’re spending an incredible amount of effort trying to recreate the print experience online,” remarked Ed Finn, Director of Arizona State University’s innovative Center for Science and the Imagination. “And I think that’s a terrible mistake.”

Although I’d be slow to dismiss Project Gutenberg, Amazon, and the entire ebook/online text ecosystem as “a terrible mistake,” Sprint Beyond the Book’s approach does sound interesting – and a challenge to the production schedules of traditional publishing operators. As the project outlines, “Frank­furt Book Fair atten­dees and online fol­low­ers can track the book’s progress as it is con­cep­tu­al­ized, writ­ten and assem­bled over the course of 72 hours by a small team using sim­ple tech­no­log­i­cal tools – upending the pub­lish­ing industry’s tra­di­tional time– and resource-intensive mod­els for writing and pub­li­ca­tion.”

This isn’t the first time that anyone has attempted such a sprint – some of them with far more radically short timelines even than Sprint Beyond the Book. Last December, a team of Romanian writers put together “Santa Claus & Co. The world’s fastest novel” in a claimed 5 hours and 35 minutes for a record-breaking attempt. And even literary greats have managed impressive track times: Jack Kerouac’s On The Road allegedly took only three weeks to write. But this project is more to do with changing publishing procedures than authors’ workflows. All the collaborators are actually contributing texts on publishing and the future of the book.


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