Last October, after being dumped by a girlfriend and mired in depression, Ragsdale posted a flier around New York City on a whim that read, "If anyone wants to talk about anything, call me." It listed his mobile phone number. Calls streamed in, by the dozens, then the hundreds, and now well into the tens of thousands.
Some callers left messages. Others texted. And many spoke with Ragsdale, sharing their own tales of depression, breakup, loss, substance abuse, and more. Ragsdale transcribed many and put them into a book that's something of a window into the lives of people from around the globe, coping with their daily demons.
"Jeff, One Lonely Guy" is the first book from Amazon Publishing, the retail giant's year-old New York imprint run by publishing industry veteran Larry Kirshbaum. It has won plaudits from Bret Easton Ellis, author of "American Psycho" and "Less Than Zero," who called the book "a legitimate new form of narrative." There have been only a few reviews, including one from Bookforum.com, which lamented the lack of Ragsdale's voice in the book, but nevertheless described it as "worth the read."
The book is slim by publishing industry standards -- a mere 138 pages. And while the messages are grouped into chapters with titles such as "Love Sucks" and "No God Created This Mess," there's no narrative, no storyline that has a beginning, middle, or end. What's more, the book debuted a mere five months after Ragsdale posted his flyer, Usain Bolt-like speed in an industry that typically publishes books at a meandering pace.
For Jeff Belle, vice president of Amazon Publishing, that's what makes "Jeff, One Lonely Guy" so exciting. It challenges preconceived notions about how publishing is done.
"We're most interested in working with authors who want to innovate, who want to experiment," Belle said in an interview with CNET. "What's a book? What's it becoming?"
These are questions that beg a much larger one: How is Amazon reshaping the way books, movies, and television programs are created?
Amazon is jumping headlong into the business of creating content because, more than any other company, it has the potent combination of a massive base of customers and the vast technical underpinning with which to bring those customers new ways of consuming books, movies, and television programs. And as that content becomes ever more digitized, Amazon wants to call the shots as to how those books and programs are created, delivered, and sold.
"Amazon doesn't want to be anyone's bitch," said Sucharita Mulpuru, an analyst with Forrester Research. "Amazon has the ability to create better content and not be encumbered by existing rules."
Amazon is trying to change the rules in Hollywood as well. The company is creating a new model for making movies and television programs, tapping its vast Web presence to crowdsource concepts. Anyone can upload a screenplay or television pilot script to the Amazon Studios Web site, where Amazon and the community it's developed weed out the weakest and refine the most commercial, before the company commits significant financial resources to production.
"The cost of creating a prototype movie is so much lower than it used to be," Amazon Studios director Roy Price said in an interview with CNET. "We can prototype a movie again and focus-test it again.... You can really have it become more of an iterative process."
The full story at CNET.