According to Clive Malcher, the Digital Publisher at Harper Collins UK, "everyone thinks they have a book in them". Therein, Malcher believes, lies the justification for Authonomy.com, an ambitious new Harper Collins website designed for unpublished authors.
Authonomy – which Malcher described as "my baby" – is a vertical social network designed to give wannabe writers a global online community for distributing, critiquing and even selling their work. Launched last week, the website provides writers with what Malcher describes as the publishing "tools to celebrate their talent".
But what happens if these writers aren't talented? I asked the London based Malcher when we spoke on the telephone last week. "Creativity is subjective," he explained. "If you can find an audience, then you have talent."
Talent might be subjective, but money isn't. So what's the economic point of Authonomy for the News Corp owned Harper Collins? Malcher acknowledged that there are few immediate revenue opportunities for the new website. But in the longer-term, he suggested in language that made Authonomy sound like a cross between an airport and a biological environment, the website can become a "hub" of a "bigger eco-system". Certainly, I could imagine Authonomy becoming a literary version of Apple's lucrative iTunes business for the sale of e-books. And while the site currently isn't selling advertisements, it would obviously offer unrivalled opportunities for both bookshops and publishers eager to reach a niche audience of hardcore writers and readers.
But I suspect the real economic rationale of Authonomy is taking advantage of the free labour of the supposedly wise online crowd. With Authonomy, Harper Collins is handing over the slush-pile to an audience of unpaid readers. They want the members of the Authonomy to sort through the manuscripts of the hundreds of thousands of wannabe authors, thereby discovering the next J K Rowling or Elizabeth Gilbert. This is what Wired magazine writer Jeff Howe, in a new book released in the UK last month, calls "crowdsourcing". Thus, the crowd on Authonomy becomes a supplement, perhaps even a replacement, for the traditional book editor and the literary agent.
As a published writer, it is, of course, easy for me to be glib about the democratising impact of Authonomy on the archaic and elitist book business. But I really do welcome this snappily designed social network. Authonomy is undoubtedly a worthwhile new online destination for the 98 per cent of people who, according to Harper Collins research, believe that they are a book author in-waiting.