Next week: Digital Book World

Some of us still champion the Web as a source of knowledge that empowers without regard to arbitrary boundaries or economic monopolies. When companies avoid engaging in online community building for purely commercial reasons, when their personnel actually enjoy the variety of opportunities to engage with people who care about what the companies are doing, then their brands paradoxically increase in value. Some publishers understand this. It’s easy to tell which ones, because their websites are designed to enable connections among the authors whose books they publish, media and public relations professionals, booksellers, and individual readers.

Back in 2007, Johanna Vondeling, VP of editorial and digital at Berrett-Koehler Publishers, and I discussed the increased attention being paid to online communities—a trend that continues with many more participants today. She gave me a link to the speech that publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin had presented at BookExpo America earlier in 2007, because his predictions had particularly impressed her and her colleagues. I read the speech and was educated by Shatzkin’s analysis of the future for the book publishing industry. When he subsequently launched his blog, The Shatzkin Files, I was quick to add it to my RSS feed. His thoughtful predictions haven’t disappointed.

Meet me at Digital Book World ( week, those of us who are invigorated by change and more than a little inquisitive about digital book publishing will coalesce at Digital Book World, a new conference chaired by Shatzkin and sponsored by corporations like F+W Media (a publisher for which I’ve written as a freelancer, I must disclose). For a sense of what the upcoming conference will be like, take a look at LaNew-Yorkaise’ summary and the videos, slides, and blogposts capturing the DBW 7x20x21 held at the Bowery Poetry Club earlier this month.

I’ll be pleased to see Vondeling at next week’s event, as well as DBW panelists Christina Katz and Kassia Krozser, publisher Jane Friedman of the Writer’s Digest brand community, and commissioning editor Shivmeet Deol of Hachette India. My idea of fun is spending time with people who love books in whatever form books take.

If you’re planning to be at DBW, I hope to connect with you there or through the DBW Conference Attendees group on LinkedIn.

5 Replies to “Next week: Digital Book World”

  1. Robin — We must make an effort to meet! I know there are a few gatherings planned, but please find me if we don’t connect in another way. I am looking forward to it. (and thanks for the great comment today!)

  2. “Some of us still champion the Web as a source of knowledge that empowers without regard to arbitrary boundaries or economic monopolies.”

    Yes, that part is true. What the WEb has done to writing as writing, however, and what it has to writers themselves is pure evil … well, maybe not pure, but mostly. As newspapers shut down because people are reading news on the Net, writers/reporters lose their jobs. Oddly, they can’t find jobs on the ‘Net. This is because no one on the Net wants to pay them. I currently write for a web outfit. The pay is not something one can live on. And there are worse sites. They all want to use freelancers so that they don’t have to pay for benefits. They don’t even send you a check; to save accounting costs (I assume) they make you get your money through PayPal–who pulls a percentage of every dollar you make.

    Needless to say, everyone is a writer now. And no matter how bad the copy, editors (like me wearing my other hat) fix it up, and send it on. Also needless to say, the quality of the writing on average is atrocious. I taught English in Turkey for a total of 9 years. Students NEVER opened a book to do research. Most of them had never been to the university libraryl. It all came off the web. And I don’t recall a SINGLE web article that was even close to being error-free. Most were fraught with every kind of grammar error imaginable, not to mention punctuation. And plain old badly writing. Before my students could even use the articles, I had to correct them and then explain to the students why Americans can’t use English properly.

    Yes, the Web is a wonder for immediate information. It’s not so hot on depth. It’s not particularly a boon for good writers, although it’s a godsend for awful ones, who can now set up a blog and get their friends to read it.

    This is the horror. Now that there are no gatekeepers, it’s become well nigh impossible to make a living as a writer–unless you are already entrenched in a solid publication or at a good site. What i mean is, whereas 20 years ago, hundreds of writers had audiences in the thousands, tens of thousands of writers now have audiences of 5 or 6 or maybe 30 people. Bloggers who get 20 people a day to read their blog are wildly excited.

    I expect the situation to get worse. There are now virtual publishing houses that only publish e-books. Which means, with virtually no production costs, the market can be flooded which books that will be 95% junk that should never have seen the light of day. And audience attention will continue to be divided among more and more authors of dubious ability.

    I can’t see any way out of it. And every bad book published buries a good book one book deeper.

    So, yes, I love the info on the web. I’m not so fond of what it has done to writers and writing. yes, the gatekeepers that remain are narrow-minded, greedy, and have lost sight of the importance of good literature, but what’s happening on the Web isn’t the answer.

    My two cents.

  3. I understand the frustration of both journalists and creative writers when it comes to earning a living right now. Creative writers have long been accustomed to the difficulty of making a full-time career of their art. Journalists, for the most part, neither anticipated nor prepared for the transition their industry is experiencing.

    Advertising dollars are shifting from print, and even broadcast, media to the Web more slowly than the readers who are adjusting to online sources of news and entertainment. If you think about it, that makes perfect sense from a business standpoint. The advertising money will follow what’s referred to as eyeballs. However, the asynchronous migrations result in the chaotic, unedited morass of Web content that annoys you as much as it fascinates some folks.

    We’ve already reached the point at which only opening a book to conduct a survey of the literature on a topic will put a student at a disadvantage, unless there’s virtually no new scholarship available in a particular field of study. It’s true, unfortunately, that students are often oblivious to publications they should be seeking that are available only through libraries or expensive subscriptions to databases such as JSTOR, and many people are unaware of the existence of open access journals. Fortunately, librarians at both university and public libraries have done a far better job of learning new technology that facilitates online research than most students and journalists have done to avail themselves of the latest information available digitally.

    You point out the obvious lack of curators to filter the self-published content that the Web enables. I’m not sure how many new curators have emerged for independent musicians, who’ve been offering their work directly to listeners for a little longer than novelists have, as a group. People are asking for better filters. As soon as they get what they ask for, they’ll complain about the bias and favoritism that interferes with the curators’ judgment. Nothing is ever actually new.

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