Hope, in the cyber age

If you're wondering where I've been for the last month or so, I'll tell you. I've been working on a project that is risky, especially during these recessionary times, but that has so much potential for wonderful stuff I can't not work on it. I'll let you know what it is later -- it deserves its own post -- but take it from me, it's frightening in its potential.But what I wanted to write about today was this story. There's a small press in the UK, Salt Publishing, that was so hard hit by the recession that it almost went under. Wait -- I'll tell it in the owner's own words:

I've had better years. Last April at our year end we'd enjoyed 70% growth for our tiny literature business. We were on target for a third of a million turnover by 2011. We weren't cocky, but we were confident we could make it. Then the recession hit, it came on slowly and ate away at our growth until, with the utter collapse of March's sales, we were 11% down on 2008 and £55,000 down against budget.I've never faced bankruptcy before. While I was a director at CUP I never felt a personal connection with business performance. It wasn't my home, my children's futures on the line.

So what did he do?He started a very simple internet campaign. Again, his words:

I was Skyping my wife looking for answers, for some way forward when I said, "Hold on a minute, I've an idea." The idea was risky—it was to go public and to use our Facebook presence to announce a campaign. "Just One Book" was a simple offer: you could save an independent literary press by purchasing one title. That's all it would take.

And it worked. It went viral, as these things can do. Once more, here he is -- Chris Hamilton-Emery of Salt Publishing:

Within 18 hours of posting that first note over 300 orders arrived from Kazakhstan to Japan, from Denmark to Australia. Over the past five days we've taken close on 1,000 direct orders and generated over £20,000 of sales: trade sales have tripled. For a little family business like ours this has been humbling and exhausting. No one likes being on the brink, now we've stepped back a few paces. We're not out of danger, but we've seen that linking a viral campaign to drive sales to bookshops and our own website can have dramatic effects. People are saving us one book at a time.

So here's the thing. We live in an extraordinary time. It's one of those times when a fundamental revolution is taking place around the world. When we call it "globalization" but we really don't understand it; this is the kind of revolution that took place when Gutenberg first printed his Bible on that first printing press, only at warp speed, or, more accurately, at cyber speed. Too many power-brokers, especially those who sit in chambers of government, do not understand what is going on; the election of Barack Obama demostrated that, as does the extension of the old ways into his new campaign by his detractors. When one appeal can save a bookseller by involving people all over the world, there's no limit to what a people, united, can do.So back to the project. It's risky, yes. But maybe, just maybe, cyberspace can offer a path around the risk.