Walter Isaacson discussed his forthcoming book THE INNOVATORS with Slate publisher Jacob Weisberg Friday morning at BEA. The book, which traces the lineage of technological innovation from Ada Lovelace (“I didn’t know much about her until my daughter introduced me”), Charles Babbage and Alan Turing to the founders of Intel to Twitter’s Ev Williams, was an antidote to his biography of Steve Jobs. “Almost every great innovator in the book had a great collaborator,” Isaacson said, adding he wanted to show “three to four great types of leaders” as opposed to the singular, uncompromising vision of Jobs. “People would come up to me and ask ‘how to be just like Steve?’ I’d say ‘don’t try this at home!’ It’s actually *not* the best way to be a leader. You can be a really nice collaborator which provides sustained innovation.”
Isaacson also discussed why he made chapters-in-progress available on platforms such as Medium, which he singled out as the most helpful — one chapter received more than 18,000 comments in the margin in a single week. “I ignored a lot of them, but less than I thought.” Isaacson hopes to produce an enhanced ebook “in the next two years” as well as a “Wikified multimedia book that I can curate.”
Near the end of the session, Weisberg asked Isaacson about the topic on most everyone’s mind at BEA, the dispute between Amazon and Hachette. Isaacson said, “When you screw authors, publishers, and users, and you’re trying to be what Amazon is trying to be, then you have a problem and it has to be resolved.” He explained at length: “Amazon has done a lot of innovation and that’s good: there are the Singles, and they enable people to self-publish. Amazon has had this way of saying ‘here’s how we do things in the future.’ If they destroy that, it’s bad for everybody. I love Amazon. I buy all my clothing from Amazon. In 1999 I said Amazon was a customer service company, focused on doing right thing for customers. I think Jeff Bezos is in danger of losing that sense that he’s not in it just for the money instead of because he cares about making good products. That was the secret of Steve Jobs. I think this could be resolved, but it’s about the perception that publishing a book is not the same as delivering a button-down Oxford shirt to a hotel room.”
James Patterson also talked more about the Amazon/Hachette dispute at the ABA Luncheon Wednesday, a day removed from awarding another $1 million to independent bookstores around the country. His remarks echoed his earlier Facebook posting when the dispute was first reported widely to the public earlier this month, with further pointedness: “Amazon also, as you know, wants to control book selling, book buying, and even book publishing, and that is a national tragedy.”
In other convention news, Next Big Book, the offshoot of Next Big Sound that has partnered with Macmillan on data analytics for book sales, won the BEA Start-Up Challenge Wednesday afternoon.