Adam Hyde: Books Are Evil, or: Towards a collaborative production model of books using free software


“Books are Evil” is the provocative title of Adam Hyde’s talk in the session on Workflows, Tools and Platforms. For many years Hyde worked as a digital media artist, however, after coming back from an art residency in Antarctica he decided to quit the art world and focus his career on the design and development of online knowledge production platforms. He has done so diligently; Hyde has become a well-known figure in the E-pub field as the founder and director of Book Sprints, and previously as the designer of various platforms such as Booki, BookJS, Booktype, Objavi, Lexicon and the more recent PubSweet.

Hyde outspokenly refuses to use propriety tools and has developed a range of free manuals about open source software tools and methodologies for the collaborative production of books. He strongly advocates using only free software, not only because it is free but also because open source tools enable you to constantly innovate and ameliorate the system.

Working and designing collaborative book production models using free software, Hyde has a few lessons to share with the audience. First of all he highly recommends HTML, unlike Regex or Farsi, it is very efficient, he claims. “It is the Royal King, the best thing out there.” That people try to get out of this system seems “crazy” to him. Secondly, “always choose the simplest route to getting to the end result you want.”

Provokingly addressing the title of his talk, Hyde exclaims that books are evil because they gave birth to

  • copyright,
  • industrialized culture,
  • and to the construct of the solitary genius-author.

The current book market conditions for books, Hyde argues, is interwoven with the above and could not exists without each of the above.

According to Hyde, “we need to move away from books towards a collaborative production model of books using free software”. What’s important for Hyde is to show that the notion of the genius, single author of a book and the supposedly linear and solitary process of book production is “absurd and ahistorical as it obscures not only all the people that are working on a book, it also obscures a long history of collaborative book production.” With his provocative stance  – books are evil – Hyde wants to point attention to the many problems of traditional book production that are not talked or even thought about. One of these problems is the idea of the single author, which is not only interrelated with rules and regulations around licensing and book business models, but also heavily touches on cultural traditions and emotional attachments.

Hyde predicts, “issues of voice, of knowledge production, of collective ownership and participatory workflows and concepts will come up in future discussions.”

“A book”, lest we forget “is a proprietary depository.” What’s the point of E-publishing? – Hyde asks the audience rhetorically. E-pubs are a distribution tool; the purpose is distributing – that comes with selling – books, Hyde contends. Moreover, for Hyde it is also a mechanism that helps us to rethink, rework and imagine “new and truly collaborative ways of writing and knowledge production.”