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Neal Stephenson's Novel-Redefining Novel, "The Mongoliad," Launches, Online


Ghengis Khan shook up the world in the 12th Century, and now in the 21st Century Neal Stephenson's novel about him may shake up the publishing world: It's partly interactive, partly social media, and wholly digital.

The Mongoliad promises to be unlike any other book ever written. For starters it's written, in part, by Neal Stephenson, whose ideas in earlier novels like Snow Crash and The Diamond Age have contributed to many modern marvels like Google Earth and augmented reality. When you learn sci-fi writer Greg Bear is contributing to the team effort too, it makes the whole thing even more promising.

The innovation in The Mongoliad isn't in its team writing effort, however: It's in the entire concept of a serialized, dynamic, digital "book" that includes video, imagery, music, and background articles among the text of the storyline and comes with a social media companion, with which fans/readers can comment and interact. The social aspect even goes so far as including badges, the new digital "reward" phenomenon, which readers can earn for taking part in particular activities. The book will be available online via a browser, and also through dedicated apps for Apple iDevices and Android phones.

Stephenson's team has been super-smart at embracing social media for The Mongoliad, but it's also wise to the different ways one can make money online. Mongoliad is serialized—with one new "episode" per week for a whole year—and you have to pay to read it: $10 for the year, or $6 for a six-month subscription (cheaper, evidently, to appeal to the younger readers the book may get—you have to be over 13 to subscribe). In this respect, the book is following Rupert Murdoch's plan for erecting a paywall around serialized content—only in this case it's a novel rather than a daily newspaper. But Mongoliad's team seems wiser to the needs of the reading public, as well as technology, and the project's president Jeremy Bornstein has noted that he thinks readers will cough up the cash despite being used to getting things for free online because the Mongoliad experience is "so much more rich, so much more involving" than the bland one-way content you often experience on the Web.

Cleverer yet, while Mongoliad will have a beginning, middle, and end like a traditional book, there's room for sequels, prequels, and parallel stories. The entire interactive/social/serialized publication has also been written inside its own tech wrapper, dubbed PULP, which Subutai (the company behind Mongoliad) may use to write other books—and it's exactly the sort of product which could easily sell well through a licensing system.

To keep up with this news, follow me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter.