Time to think
Maybe it’s because I have some time on my hands, or simply that with my head freed of some other obligations I have allowed some peripheral issues to sink in, I don’t know. In any case, today when the if:book report for the Arts Council of England: read:write. Digital Possibilities for Literature came across my desk (or rather through my e-mail) it sparked quiote a few thoughts.
The first of those was that the report makes a very good case for the actual act of publishing becoming increasingly cheap and easy. Indeed, section 4.3 asks what must for the whole report be the critical question:
When new writing can be published for little or no cost online, when does it make sense to fund digital magazines? When much online culture is created by willing, unpaid volunteers, where is public subsidy appropriate and valuable?
They go on to suggest that:
in some cases it is appropriate to provide funding in order to encourage less technically confident communities to explore the medium; and there is an argument in favour of using funding to attract established print writers into the online space.
While it is debatable whether funding ezines always ensures better output, there is only so much that can be achieved technically with amateur skillsets and limited time. Funding interventions in the online magazine space could be oriented towards improving technical know-how and implementing robust infrastructures in publications, funded or unfunded, with an existing track record of “making it work” and delivering quality content using the free tools and DIY ethos of the Web. ACE could also provide expertise in generating income through the Web.
I’ve no huge issue with these ideas. Inf act I suspect that they are largely moot, even after a year. If you look a the work that large publishers are engaged in with the likes of Authonomy.com and the ease with which a magazine can be published online, then funding infrastructure might well be pretty worthless, rather funding training for the services (free and paid) that enable writers to post their material for free would be more sensible. The key take away being: Don’t Reinvent The Wheel!*
Which brings me to the question of getting the word out abut online literature. Sure you can publish for free or the price of a beer, but how do you promote it? Nothing in the report really addresses that core need, looking at the web in a sense as one large marketing opportunity, but the truth is that it is one large wasteland for content that need good marketing, clever campaigns and link love to rise to the surface.
I need to read the report again but while I think it has quite nicely judged the possibilities, I suspect that many of these possibilities remain only remote opportunities (for more on that idea, this blog post is pretty good). There can be no simple hope that by removing the costs associated with the traditional print infrastructure we can equally escape the costs of marketing. Those costs will actually increase and become more relevant as a slew of content creates and added for free to the web overwhelms us.