July 20, 2012

The Vanguard Couldn’t Be Us, Could It?

LONDON -- In the company of the estimable James Wallis, at the beautiful St. Bride’s library, I attended an event called Publish! New Players, New Innovations. Although  the name does sound a little buzzwordy, I've been to other panels and seminars about the future of publishing dominated by doom and gloom, so it was encouraging to be promised an evening looking forward to fresh possibilities. It turned out that most of the presenters were hopeful because what they were doing was not publishing. They’re mostly making apps. I was heartened to see a literary writer among the panelists fielding questions during the event’s second half. Litfic authors in general have been slow to embrace the opportunities inherent in the great Internet shake-up. Kate Pullinger, a transplanted British Columbian and winner of Canada's prestigious Governor-General's Award (it's our Pulitzer) sees her new media writing grow its audience month after month, long after a novel would be done its sale cycle. She deplored the way creative writing workshop culture encourages writers to cast themselves back to the beginning of the 20th century.

One thing that is going to have to leave the literary arsenal is preciousness, which can't survive the level of engagement required by social media. Hey, if Margaret Atwood can go to the San Diego comic con and get her picture taken with Klingons, it means the great persona shift is on.

As is often the case at these events I was reminded just how far ahead of the curve our crazy little corner the publishing industry is. From adjusting to piracy to community building to crowdfunding to hardcopy/ebook bundling, the stuff we consider part of our day-to-day practice reads to conventional publishing as a bizarre transmission from an alternate future. We may be a bunch of spunky kids with a barn and some costumes putting on a show but we're figuring out things for ourselves and making it happen. The future of publishing may well be the small press and we’ve got the new economics of that well corralled. Maybe the real money in hobby gaming is in learning its lessons and then teaching them to others as a bunch of fancy consultants.

After that, a pub was repaired to, where there was talk of movie remakes, ancient messages from the dawn of the Internet, and the horrors of British real estate transactions.