Curation: Interview with Michael Bhaskar


Michael BhaskarMichael Bhaskar is a writer, researcher, digital publisher and Co-Founder of Canelo. Here we interviewed him on his new book, Curation: The Power of Selection in a World of Too Much.

1) Tell us a bit about your new book. What’s it all about, and what are some of the key points?

The new book is called Curation and it’s about, yes, the idea of curation. A few years ago I was going to lots of conferences and it was this word that kept on appearing. Everything was curated. I kept seeing it in the newspaper, on the Internet… At first it seemed like a bit of posturing, a word for art school grads. But the more I started thinking the more it seemed there was the germ of a very powerful idea.

The reason I think we have come to use the word curation, why it’s broken out of museums and galleries, is that we have too much stuff in almost every context. We have saturated markets. The problem changes – from just producing more to choosing better. Hence the need for curation. From there the book goes to all kinds of places. It defines curation as selecting to arranging to add value.

It looks at everything from the business of models of Amazon, Netflix and Spotify to the world’s first data visualization and the collapse of the Mayans. It’s goes from the shopping malls of Hong Kong to the art of Marcel Duchamp to the relationship between algorithmic and human curation. It looks at the history and principles behind the term but also goes to the places today where it’s really being felt – on Facebook or at shops like Eataly or Opening Ceremony.

2) How do you find being on the writing side of a project compared to the publishing side?

Strange, nerve-wracking but enjoyable! As publishers it’s easy to get used to books coming out and to forget just what a huge thing it is for the author. Writers have to live and breathe the work over the space of years. It’s so personal. It’s a timely reminder of that! What I do like is the space to think. Publishing requires you to be very focused on outcomes, whereas writing lets you wander.

3) What have you learned from writing the book?

I’ve learned that the nature of the economy is changing in a very fundamental way. The model of producing more is now only producing overload and won’t work. Almost whatever we are doing our roles will, over the next years, feature more and more of what we might call curation. Just think about the book industry: there are 1 million new English language books published every year, not including self-published and other works. That’s books with ISBNs. What is the value of publishing another versus finding the right book for the right reader?

More broadly I just learnt a huge amount. Everything from the history of retail to the birth of museums to the inner workings of major tech companies and the Himalayan silk road where in there and needed research!

4) How does Curation relate to your first book, The Content Machine, and how does it differ?

The Content Machine was quite academic and very much focused on publishing. Curation is a much broader and more accessible book. It’s targeted at a general readership and it really looks at a much wider range of examples. What I hope both share is a passion for ideas and interesting stories to illustrate them!

5) Given your various roles, what are your top tips for managing time and relationships within your team?

In terms of time, one word: discipline! If you are writing as well as working you never have the luxury of vast tracts of time. So you have to be tough with yourself, get up early on a Saturday morning and get writing. There is no short cut alas!

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  1. Great read! There is something infectious about Michael’s enthusiasm and I think I spot a pattern: as in his previous book, so in this one there is a joy at making what on the surface look like unlikely connections. But only on the surface… I think Michael hugely enjoys liking up disparate facts to create a narrative that reveals underlying patterns in his chosen subject in a way that makes you go ‘wow, that’s pretty incredible’. It makes me smile and feel 5 years old again!

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