The Future of Writing, Macquarie Uni

The Future of Publishing

This symposium was organised by Macquarie University with funding from the Cultural Fund granted by the Copyright Agency. I tweeted this event under #mqfuture, but here’s the nice, organised and formatted version.

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Introduction to the Future of Publishing, Professor John Potts, Department of Media, Music, Communication and Cultural Studies, Macquarie University

  • Writing has transformed human consciousness – Walter Ong
  • Writing is based on other technologies, pens, quills, clay tablets
  • Is writing about to disappear into the cloud? … Unloved and ungoogled?
  • Mass printing was ‘the most radical transformation in the conditions of intellectual life in the history of Western civilization’ according to Elizabeth Eisenstein
  • Restrictive regimes would burn burns to control thoughts and beliefs
  • Jeff Bezos (Amazon) – The physical book and book stores are dead
  • Digital natives may have abandoned newspaper but not books – only 4% use ebooks
  • Physical books have more flexibility – annotating, holding, folding, bookmarking
  • The future is ebooks, self publishing and social media
  • Some say what we use affects our reading and abilities e.g. Google is making us stupid
  • ‘I link, therefore i am’
  • e.g. Wikipedia – wisdom of crowd and connectivity. This is becoming more important to writing
  • Online writing – connect with others for mass collaboration through internet. Less need for gatekeepers, but more need for curation.

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Richard Nash, Culture is the Algorithm
Writing has no future without reading-how then, does writing come to be read? Units of culture-essays, books, poems, songs, movies-come to their audience via algorithmically-based systems: Google’s search engines, Facebook’s social graph, Amazon’s People Who Bought Also Bought. But the integrity of writing will survive its encounter with Big Data for the history of publishing suggests it is possessed of a remarkable resilience, one born simultaneously of a resistance to and an embrace of capitalist modernity.
Richard Nash runs content and partnerships for the US start-up Small Demons. Previous to that he ran his own social publishing start-up Cursor, a semi-conventional independent publisher Soft Skull Press, and an experimental theatre company called Liquid Theater.

  • Talks on publishing tend to be ahistorical. Writing is not against technology, it has become invisible technology like the wheel or chair.
  • Publishing as commercial enterprise began in the early 1500s with Gutenberg. Nash refers to this as Publishing 1.0 and Writing 2.0
  • A writer was a transcriber before to take others words. Their work was to reproduce and not invent. The role of writer changed as the means of reproduction developed. Writer as reproducer was supplanted by machines
  • In the following centuries society saw the rise of genius, individual, people as separate from society
  • Writers began to create something new and became dependent on the machine for their texts to be read widely.
  • Gutenberg went out of business, but Aldus in Venice was successful – he also invented and popularised punctuation, italics, regularised syntax
  • 1985 – Pagemaker software. Nash notes this as Publishing 2.0
  • Digitalisation affected number of titles able to be produced
  • Print books from traditional publishers growing still, but slowed a lot
  • Society changes affected publishing too – less racism, sexism, etc. Previously writers were only white men
  • In publishing, the massive change was around production. For music, it was the consuming that changed – MP3, iPod
  • 20th c was focused on supply, 21st c will be focused on demand
  • With the Oprah book club, she was able to exist beyond the hour she was on tv. She was with you. Oprah helped generate demand in a huge way, as so many suggest, but was she also saved by publishing? She was using books to sustain social relations to stimulate demand
  • Culture not always easily predicted.
  • The power of the ‘like’ – not good at reflecting value. There are different levels of commitment between a like and reading
  • Talking about Small Demons – lists people, music, places mentioned in book, other books that mention the book, so much! The book also a source of cultural discovery
  • Supply chain sees writer and reader as opposite sides, but these are activities that are linked
  • Poetica – in beta. Community editing (by invite) that uses proofreading marks
  • Not just books – but authors are worth money too. Limited editions, classes run by author, events etc
  • Books are recipes for imagination

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Publishing in a Digital Age

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Joel Naoum, Who Wants to Read This Stuff?: The Business of Storytelling in a Digital World
New technology has enabled writers to tell stories in ever more elaborate and interesting ways – but does anyone actually want to read this stuff? How much is digital publishing technology actually changing the way we read, publish and write books?
Joel Naoum is a book publisher, editor, blogger and writer. He is running Pan Macmillan’s new digital-only imprint Momentum and recently completed a three-month stint in London for the Unwin Trust Fellowship researching digital publishing experimentation.

  • Usually, the question of audience not really considered
  • Pushing boundaries of what the book is – people are not necessarily looking for this, but it is the most exciting part of innovation
  • Book app for The Waste Land – costs $15 in store, made for $100,000ish and earned out in 8 weeks. You can listen to/watch different actors performing the poem, original notes, annotations, – as well as the actual poem.
  • Other examples of apps: Stephen Fry’s biography. The interactive part of this app is to be able to choose tags to only read, say, chapters on comedy. But the biography is a very linear thing. * Game of Thrones apps by George R R Martin – some sections will have an audio clipping of what you have just read, but what is the purpose of this? You’ve just read it. Another feature is to be able to follow the characters movements on a map, but this is inconsistent and not available with every chapter. And lastly, a feature where the list of characters will link to the chapters about those characters – but this is also inconsistent.
  • This is called interactive literature. The difference with this is it is much easier to get distracted, it interrupts flow. Rather than enhancing the experience of a story, some structure of apps has little effect, are confusing, and doesn’t suit form. Useless stuff is often crammed in just because it can be.
  • Focus more on who would use it and how it would be used
  • Joel is also for simultaneous worldwide publication and against DRM, as it is bad for readers.  DRM helped Amazon and publishing moving too slowly on this.

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Kathy Bail, How Digital Technology is Transforming a University Press
Digital technology is changing all aspects of UNSW Press: from the way books are designed and printed to the multiple formats in which they are published. Sales and marketing strategies are shifting too. What business models are emerging in this experimental and transitional era in publishing and media?
Kathy Bail is the chief executive of UNSW Press, a not-for-profit publishing and retail company owned by the University of New South Wales. It is celebrating 50 years in business in 2012. She has extensive experience in publishing and media management as a former editor of the Australian Financial Review Magazine, The Bulletin/Newsweek and Rolling Stone.

  • Efficient POD (Print On Demand) technology has activated a lot of backlist titles
  • Publishers are also needing strategies to engage customers
  • Perception of ebooks should be cheaper in part created by Amazon’s loss leading. Content, design, editing – all cost the same regardless of paper or digital. That ebooks are so much cheaper to create is a misconception
  • Most students prefer paper books – for the moment
  • Government  desire for cost efficiency means they often encourages digital works, but they don’t understand the nuances between different styles of books or different uses for ebooks (sometimes used purely as promotion for the pbook)
  • Fact checking and reviewing still as, or even more, important in academic works

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Elizabeth Weiss, Challenges and Opportunities in Digital Publishing
There are numerous challenges as well as opportunities in the wake of changes wrought to publishing by digital and online technologies. This presentation considers some of the most pressing challenges for publishers in a changed publishing environment.
Elizabeth Weiss is Academic and Digital Publishing Director at Allen & Unwin.

  • Discourse about publishing is very global, seamless – but it’s not
  • Australians read a lot compared to others, but where they buy/learn about books is changing
  • Sales strategy of Bookworld (reused from Angus and Robertson) focused on beating Amazon.
  • Amazon: Bezos was looking for minimal sales tax opportunities, non-perishable product. Long view – limited profit to build market share
  • Apple: using books to enhance desirability. Difficult to use to find books.
  • Google: part of organising the world’s information, and focused on competing with Apple. Using social media, which can pull you off the books into other parts of their company.
  • The big four: Amazon, Apple, Google and kobo
  • Digital has seen Australian publishers able to get books in more markets, but even though a book is available elsewhere, demand is still a problem
  • New in ebooks: can price to market in local currencies to fit local economics
  • File security is a big issue, though sending files to local POD publishers is quicker for customers
  • Estimated Amazon has 60% of the Australian market with no Australian office, local marketing. Google/Apple do limited work in Australia, some have marketers for Australian market but set up in the UK
  • Lots of pressure on indie bookstores, although they have 1/3rd market – that is quite healthy.
  • Ebooks not covering the hole of RedGroups former market share

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Panel Discussion

  • Joel: Literary apps are hugely expensive to create and rarely go well
  • Trade and conditions at the moment are difficult: high Australian dollar, still reeling from the collapse of RedGroup
  • Controversy over the devaluing of the book, example: Sony started a new ebook store and was discounting bestsellers to 20 pence, and Amazon price matched.
  • Genre sells best in ebooks – romance and thrillers, especially
  • There is no monitoring of in-app social media things. (E.g. Kobo, being able to read other people’s comments in text while reading)
  • Cultural experiment of including social media in ebooks has generated lots of excitement, but no evidence people want it except in certain contexts.
  • ReadCloud is working on including social media in ebooks for teaching: being able to share student’s comments on the same text with the whole class.
  • The market’s response will dictate app functions. If people complain about a feature (particularly if it cannot be turned off), app-makers will remove it or no longer include it.
  • Pressure for low prices also coming from author – without necessarily knowing implications beyond Amazon sales ranking
  • Random Penguin merger = gives them more power but also in-house challenges. Likely to lead to employees being laid off and less books being published
  • There is massive opportunity for author’s that is not all controlled by publishers. Self publishing is usually last resort. As well as lots of opportunity and some benefits for self publishing, it is less likely to found at the bottom of search results. Traditional publishing still has a role to play.
  • Even difference in book covers can affect marketing capabilities –(E.g. an author video where they hold up the US cover rather than the UK/Aust cover but advertising in that market) Unlikely to find US cover in stores here for some books
  • Momentum – Global releases are very good for sales and authors. They work with adjusting prices to find the right one and also work on building author profiles. People don’t want to spend $14 on ebook by a new author.
  • Traditional publishing is getting into good sales position with wide distribution as well, but small companies can come into the market easier.
  • Companies need to bring something more to the book
  • Marketing strategies on ebook sales: no one really has it worked out yet. It’s always changing. Agency pricing (where the publisher sets the selling price) is a strategy, but being disrupted by court cases in the US and UK. Some ebooks used as a promotion to assist sales of paper books

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The Writer in an Online Environment

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Peter Doyle, (Not) Giving Up the Day Job: Writing as Profession, as Pursuit, as Thing You Do
The dream of being a published and financially self-sustaining author has long exerted a powerful pull on would-be writers. But how realistic is it? This paper will look at the practicalities and constraints which have borne on that ambition in the Australian – ie relatively small market – context over the past half century.
Peter Doyle is the author of non-fiction books, City of Shadows and Crooks Like us, as well as the ‘Billy Glasheen’ crime fiction series. In 2010 he received a Ned Kelly Lifetime Achievement Award. He lectures in the Department of Media, Music, Communication and Cultural Studies at Macquarie University.

  • Big contracts with huge advances for new authors do not happen now. Even with that big start, the author didn’t necessarily follow up with good books
  • Almost no one in Australia is making a living from writing unaided (without day job, spouse working). There never were many earlier on, anyway
  • Big change for Doyle: email. Being able to talk to his publisher in US without the tyranny of distance.
  • Doyle is published overseas by a small ‘kitchen counter’ publisher. He says it’d be impossible to get published in Australia, where the expectations are 1000s, but some books only sell double digits.

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Chris Allen, Old Dog, New Techs: Learning New Research Technologies and Social Media Engagement in the Digital Publishing Revolution
As a former paratrooper, I embraced the latest digital technologies in researching and writing my Intrepid adventure series, first to self-publish and now signed with Pan Macmillan’s digital imprint, Momentum Books. I examine new opportunities discovered through navigating the digital publishing revolution such as crowdsourcing reader feedback during the writing process, while also using it to address challenges such as performing detailed character and location research from my writing desk in Pymble.
Serving in three Commonwealth armies across two decades and four continents, one of the paratrooping elite, Chris Allen saw the world from under a billowing parachute, often by night, before transitioning into humanitarian aid work during the East Timor emergency.  He also served with three major law enforcement agencies in Australia, protecting Sydney’s most iconic landmark in the wake of 9-11 and was most recently Sheriff of New South Wales, one of the oldest law enforcement appointments in the land. Now writing full-time, his first action thriller, Defender, will be released by Momentum in eBook and print formats on 1 November with his second, Hunter, following hot on its heels on 1 December. www.intrepidallen.com

  • Not all writers need tertiary education in writing – Allen worked in army, police
  • Everyone has their own writing experience
  • Writing takes time – took him 10 years on the first book, with a lot of what he wrote being dumped. Part of taking a long time for him was learning the craft
  • Started with Amazon CreateSpace and sold over 2000 copies
  • Allen is very happy with Momentum. They got where he was coming from. With Joel, it’s now better edited and the writing is tightened
  • Took 3 months to write sequel – the editing process helped him learn a lot
  • For him, it was about writing what you know
  • Used social media to engage with people for various reasons – got feedback on writing and cover
  • The huge response on social media demonstrated that people liked it and it was commercially viable already – that helped with getting published by Momentum
  • Was an issue with the title – was Defender of the Faith (not for religious connotations, but that is how it is seen by wider pyblic) now is just Defender
  • For sequel, Allen put it out to social media to help him choose a name for a character. Some cannot be repeated … but it did help and he did use a contributor’s suggestion.
  • Now the writer can engage with the reader personally. Responding back is important – readers get so excited by and it helps to build loyalty. He even created some ringtones and hundreds have downloaded them
  • Research – so important! E.g. Tara Moss asked for experts for her book on social media. For sequel, he’s found Google Earth to be hugely useful for details. There are infinite possibilities for researching, engaging online.
  • From the start of a self published book through Amazon and working hard on social media, he has reached internationally.

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Matthew Asprey Gear and Theodore Ell, The Contrappasso Experiment
Recent advances in print-on-demand and ebook technology offer alternative publishing possibilities on the margins. The editors of Contrappasso, a new independent journal of international writing, discuss the sudden viability of experimental publishing projects.
Matthew Asprey Gear is a writer and lecturer in Writing & Aesthetics at Macquarie University. He was awarded a PhD in Media Studies in 2011.
Theodore Ell is a Sydney poet who took his doctorate in modern Florentine Poetry at the University of Sydney in 2010. He is currently undertaking a Masters degree in editing and publishing.

Matthew:

  • International magazine of writing
  • The way it’s created, there’s no risk. POD and ebook. No grant, no funding behind it.
  • New viability for marginal publishing products –  which is where experiments are happening
  • Essays, poems, fiction – but also long form interviews e.g. 65 page!!
  • POD makes a lot of things much more viable
  • No POD in Australia is as good quality and affordable as Amazon

Theodore:

  • Discuss, understand, advocate – important for choosing and publishing poems
  • Opportunities for exposure very limited, many journals closed. Not due to lack of material.
  • Even if poet makes it, there are labels. Poetry wars!
  • Poetry should be seen as poetry, not that it should say something, or be gossipy. Poetry is seen as there is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ poetry – there really isn’t
  • Instead of fighting for space, more space should be made
  • Some people call it a poetry renaissance, but it actually never went away.
  • Role of poetry editor: understand, appreciate, politely suggest, advocate. Yes/no too restrictive.

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Panel Discussion

  • Theodore: doesn’t want a headline act. All poetry published as equal in Contrappasso
  • On writing action sequences: Chris Allen replies that he is a very visual person, not just danger action, but any scene. Just writes how he sees it in his head. He tries to visualise action like in a film, what he would want to see on the big screen, and pushing the character forward. Audience member: was brought up yesterday that novel writers are getting more screenplay type writing skills
  • Audience member asking about how to encourage people other than poets to read poetry. Matthew and Theodore: Online, blogs, also wide range of writing forms and genres in the journal, they hope people will flick to poetry,

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The Future of the Book

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Sherman Young, Me myself I – Revaluing Self-publishing in the Electronic Age
In the book trade, self-publishing has traditionally been dismissed as little more than an exercise in vanity. But the possibilities of ebooks have thrown up examples that force us to rethink their role and reputation.
Sherman Young is an Associate Professor in the Department of Media Music Communications and Cultural Studies with a research interest in the impact of new media technologies. He is author of The Book is Dead, Long Live the Book (UNSW) and co-author of Media Convergence – networked digital media in everyday life (Palgrave).

  • Demonisation of self as vanity publishing, not ‘real’ publishing. In academia, self publishing is considered in even worse light
  • But publishing – successful publishing and self publishing has to be revalued
  • Ideas about self-publishing: only weak writers don’t get published. It’s a short cut.
  • Self publishers are cut out from literary culture: no awards or mainstream reviews.
  • Rise of self publishing opportunities: easy, affordable, accessible now with lulu, CreateSpace, also ebook devices.
  • The tools are so easily available now that weren’t around before
  • Video (ad for Amazon direct publishing): only two important ppl in books, writer and reader. Young: even cutting through the marketing crap, people can sell a lot of books by self publishing
  • Over last few years, about 3 fold rise in self published books (bowker)
  • 45% self pubs fiction, most are ebooks
  • One thing self publishers can do is try out price points and have control over it
  • Having a publisher is the lazy way! Self publishing, you do it all (Adam Croft)
  • Self publishing is democratisation of publishing
  • Why do people self pub? Rejection, speed to market, control, money, attract attention of publishers
  • Although usually smaller price, author can get same money on self published book priced at $3 to trad pub RRP at $13
  • There are stories the other way: traditionally published turning to self publishing – e.g. thriller writing, Barry Eisler
  • There is a link to music: e.g. Gotye was self published. There’s not the same negative portrayal of music self publishing as in the book industry.
  • New technology that replaces old is usually worse, but convenience and lower cost means a lot to consumer.
  • What do publishers do? Quality assurance? Reputation? The only thing publishers have over self pub is credentialling – and that’s changing too

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Kate Eltham, When the Web is the World: Books in the Post-digital Age
The boundary between our physical lives and our digital lives is becoming transparent and permeable and will soon disappear altogether. In a networked reality, books and stories can no longer be bounded by containers, either print or digital. The future of publishing lies in creating and curating the relationships between nodes on the network: people, stories, data, metadata.
Kate Eltham is the Festival Director and CEO of Brisbane Writers Festival. From 2006-2012 she was CEO of Queensland Writers Centre, where she founded if:book Australia, a think-and-do tank exploring book futures.

  • Ebooks and apps are the present, not the future. We need to think further ahead and step into post digital
  • Boundary between physical and digital lives – the narrowing of this is post-digital. We are hyper connected, always have access with us.
  • Our concept of books and publishing is defined as a bound thing. The post-digital world has no edges – no boundaries around books, or even memory
  • At the moment, the internet is still in the device, but in 5-10yrs, it could be bio-implants and wearable computing that is of us.
  • Physical location has no constraint on us. Geo restrictions won’t mean anything
  • Publisher will have to change. Our concept of everything – authorship and even stock etc will have to change
  • Good publishing in the future needs to be container neutral and containerless

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John Potts, Book Doomsday: The March of Progress and the Fate of the Book
The claims that the printed book will soon become obsolete, replaced by e-books and online publishing, proceed from a belief in technological progress. According to this doctrine, the old media form must inevitably be usurped by its more advanced, more convenient, more modern technological successor. This presentation considers the march of progress in the publishing context, evaluating the prospects for the e-book as well as the printed book.
John Potts is Professor of Media at Macquarie University. He has published six books including A History of Charisma (Palgrave) and, most recently, The Unacceptable (co-edited with John Scannell, Palgrave). He has published widely on media, technology, art history and intellectual history, and is a founding editor of Scan Online Journal of Media Arts Culture.

  • If newspaper hasn’t long to live for, neither do books
  • Digital music is a preview of how books will transform
  • Books will exist on the cloud.
  • Tipping point from p to ebooks already passed (for Amazon)
  • Old technology becomes the content for new technology
  • This generation and the next will embrace immateriality of text, by the logic of progress
  • But faith in industrial progress is expired
  • Progress is in reverse – we fear the future. Recycling is a way to fix previous generations errors and ebooks save trees, we are told!
  • The logic of progress is not really progress, where the old is completely overtaken by new, but radio still exists? Vinyl still exists, even as new releases. It defies progress.
  • More convenient seen as progress, but we haven’t abandoned books. If we take books from cloud, we all have the same library.
  • We become identical in the cloud. A book carries pieces of its owner. Books are a multi sensory experience. This evaporates in the cloud.
  • The binding of books has existed since 1st century, a progress from papyrus
  • The generation who has rejected newspaper has not rejected the book, unlike the logic of progress. The books future is not all used up

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Panel Discussion

  • Kate Eltham: Copyright is a big old mess and not reliable to sustain a business model
  • Young on copyright: that which was once scarce is no longer scarce
  • Eltham on post-digital living: You can see examples of people fall into another reality now, World of Warcraft and MMOs  – we might be able to frame our reality
  • Young on post-digital living: We’ve survived before (the ‘devilry of the waltz’ and close dancing). We configure and adapt things appropriately, it could be the next stage of evolution.
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