Funding Literature in a Digital Age (initial thoughts)

Eoin Purcell

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.

Funding Literature
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!*

Sensibly
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.

It’s already happening!
Eoin

* I’ve touched on this before!

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4 comments

  1. I was going to send you a link that that report, Eoin, but you got there before me! They are being a little more subtle than you give them credit for — they recognise that non-teccies creating sites with lots of content tend to have hacked-together systems, making archiving and referencing hard: they propose assisting with content management systems and savvy to help people start up.
    The really interesting thing for me was how much of it was backing up The Cult of the Amateur: every five pages they say “of course, this doesn’t bring any money or pay wages” and more or less stop there!

  2. I think the report, from what I’ve read, and from Ivan’s comments regarding The Cult of the Amateur points to them missing one thing: funding writers, and not just writing.

    Sure, the infrastructure and resources needed might be less but this obviously frees up funding to mean that writers can be paid.

    I think writers should be paid so they’re not spending too much time working for some soulless job, and that this will give opportunities to people who need funding and not just people who are already wealthy enough to not work.

    1. Benjamin,

      I suspect the change will be even greater than just paying the writer to allow them to create. Though that in itself is a good thing and something our own Arts Council in Ireland encourages through Busaries.

      Writers will need to be paid to enable them to promote their work and to learn the skills of promoting their work. Or else the tool that facilitate that promotion will need to be funded. I can see no other way to bring quality content to the fore. It will perish on the internet by dint of obscurity.

      Eoin

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