Sunday, April 24, 2005

The blogging saga ...

On Friday I got an email informing me that Blogit, which describes itself as "the first blog-for-pay community," and which features 25,000 blogs on its site, had reached the 1 million mark in terms of writers' posts and readers' commentaries. The way Blogit -- which only started up three years ago -- works is that readers subscribe and half of the money from the subscription fees is distributed to the writers of the blogs proportionally -- the more people read a given blog, the more money that blogger gets.
We hear all the time that reading is in decline. But anyone in my position has to be aware that there's something funny about that -- because more people than ever, it seems, want to write. And people who write are usually people who read.
We also hear a lot about the public's disaffection with tradional journalism. But I have the distinct impression that there is just as much disaffection with traditional publishing. Computers and the Internet have given the gatecrashers around the gatekeepers.
Back in 1997, I wrote a piece for The Inquirer about how the Internet had completely revolutionized the second-hand book business. It's now in the process of revolutionizing both publishing and journalism. At least Rupert Murdoch seems to think so.
What is interesting about Blogit is that it is a community of writers and readers. In fact, it is precisely the relationship between reader and writer that blogging can bring about that makes blogging worthwhile.
Which brings me to what I hope becomes the point of this blog, which has as much to do with what's going out there, among the consumers of books and other reading matter, as it does with anything else. If this blog works out the way I hope it will, it will become the cyberspace equivalent of an 18th-century coffee house.
Charles Mandel at Books, Booze and Bikes posts a few observations that have some bearing on this.

20 comments:

  1. Have you heard about the Litblog Co-op yet?

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  2. Does that make you Mrs. Miggins, Frank? (Blackadder reference for those who aren't complete Anglophiles like me.)

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  3. Well, I've heard of Litblog Co-op now and have added it to the blogroll at right. Thanks!
    As for being Mrs. Miggins, I don't know! I hope that's a good thing.

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  4. What I am about to contribute may sound lofty or superior. I do not mean it that way. I ask out of ignorance and innocence, not snottiness. I do not know much about blogs. There is only so much time you can devote to books, newspapers and magazines (print and online), personal email, and, yes, television, and to add one more begins to feel like the straw and the camel. Again, I say that out of a reluctance to commit more time, not out of intransigence.
    My observation is that traditional book (and newspaper) publishers act not only as gatekeepers, but firewalls. That is, writers are "separated" from readers by distance and inaccessibility. I know, that is one complaint of the existing "system," but it also has a practical and even beneficial function. If writers -- of books or periodical journalism -- are continually engaged with readers, how can they get any work done? Or is that the "work"? It may be intellectually and socially desirable, and even fun, but it does not put bread on the table. Big-name authors, as we know, are even stalked by readers. I suppose you could say that you would devote only a certain part of your time to such debate or engagement, but that does not solve the problem (if there is one). Those whose concerns you do not address will think you "elitist," as they do now. There is always someone willing, even eager, to be aggrieved.
    I am not really a writer; I have never published a book in any form. One thing that 30-plus years of daily newspapering taught me is that, like medical personnel, you have to maintain a certain distance. Perhaps it is a lesson that needs to be unlearned. I await instruction.
    Sincerely,
    Willis Wayde

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  5. Well, Willis, Iasked for feedback and you have delivered! And immediately identified a key problem, the problem of distance. As old newsguys, though, we both know that it's the little guy who tends to be kept at a distance more than the big mahoffs. I was watching C-Span a few weeks ago and there was Juan Williams hobnobbing with Howard Dean. A few feet away was Alan Colmes . I'm sure their conservative counterparts can be seen hobnobbing with the Republicans. But none of them is about to take direct calls from Joe Reader.
    I guess the point I was groping toward is that, yes, we do have to unlearn some old procedures and figure out some new ones, because technology is eliminating barriers. So we better learn how to get along with the people crowding around.
    Admittedly, I'm a bit of a softie in this regard. Somebody spends hours, weeks, months writing a book, and no one who supposedly counts wants to even look at it. Something in me wants the people who write to have at least a chance of being read. After all, traditional publishing is responsible for The Da Vinci Code, one of the worst books I have ever had to read.

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  6. Frank, you're right on target about blogs, publishing and what we're trying to do with our site, Blogit. Since I had quite a bit to say I decided to blog about your post here.

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  7. Willis, I wanted to respond to you. Like all technologies, whether it is television or email or blogs today, we can either let these innovations control us or figure out ways to control and use them to best meet our needs. The best “editorial” blogs – where the blogger takes the time to peruse and filter the media to present links to the most relevant stories – can be an incredible time saver for me personally since I cannot keep up with all the media I’d like to track. As I’ve begun to trust certain bloggers I now know that they’ll alert me to all the news that’s important.
    And I'm not even part of the post-MTV generation that is only getting its news etc. thru late night TV and the Internet. I noticed Frank’s link to the interesting Rupert Murdoch speech in which he quotes from a Carnegie Corporation report:
    There’s a dramatic revolution taking place in the news business today, and it isn’t about TV anchor changes, scandals at storied newspapers or embedded reporters.” The future course of news, says the study’s author, Merrill Brown, is being altered by technology-savvy young people no longer wedded to traditional news outlets or even accessing news in traditional ways."
    Followed by an interesting observation attributed in Murdoch’s speech to former journalist Jeff Jarvis: "...give the people control of media, they will use it. Don’t give people control of media, and you will lose them."
    These are interesting times as we all figure out what makes sense -- what needs to be unlearned and what needs to be preserved and/or evolved. We're doing our part at Blogit.

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  8. Mihail Lari says, "As I’ve begun to trust certain bloggers I now know that they’ll alert me to all the news that’s important." Now, this is interesting to me as a babe-in-the-blogging-woods. How does that differ from a traditional newspaper, magazine, or periodical, whether print or online? I might trust the NY Times, or Philadelphia Inquirer, or any number of publications, to alert me "to all the news that's important." Why should I go to the blog, when I have that? I am not trying to be sarcastic, merely trying to see what the difference is.
    Sincerely,
    Willis Wayde

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  9. Willis, a fine question. The big difference is that I would rather get the best story from any and all media sources (blogs, TV, tabloids, newspapers, magazines, message boards)...not just the NY Times, for instance, and not only if/when the Times decides it's a story.
    So I'm depending on bloggers to be voracious readers and filters of every imaginable media/news source out there -- something I'd love to be able to do but don't have the time for any more (I grew up in a home where we received four or five newspapers every morning, BBC World News was on every evening, as was the TV...and this was before the 24-hour newscycle of CNN etc).
    I hope that better explains what I meant.
    Regards,
    Mihail

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  10. Mihail: I know I will sound bullheaded here, but I think that choosing blogs does not change, either for better or for worse, the nature of the news sources, it just shifts it sideways, so to speak. You have to depend just as much on "if/when the blogger decides it's a story." And if you are getting your news from all those other sources, which is what many people do, then adding blogs to the mix does not change things materially. I do not trust blogs any more than I do newspapers -- which is not to say that I do not trust newspapers, because mostly I do. I only mean that blogs have no moral or confidence-building advantage over traditional print sources whose background and activities one has known for years.
    I grew up in a time -- so old am I -- when my little American city of 80,000 souls had three daily newspapers, and New York City had, I believe, nine. What may be happening is that we are returning to the usages of a time when news sources were overtly biased -- then, newspapers; now, blogs, cable channels, etc. In those olden days New Yorkers and Chicagoans and residents of other cities could buy the newspaper that fit their personal outlook (i.e., bias). Now we go to the cable channel or blog that fits our bias. We pick the source that will support our view, rather than run the risk of having CBS or the Times or the Inquirer tell us what that view should be. Whether CBS or the Times or Inquirer were ever all that guilty of mind-warping shenanigans is an open question.
    None of this is to suggest that electronics or the Internet are not the wave of the future for information delivery. I am sure they are. But nothing is ever free. Once we would put down our penny, then nickel, dime, quarter, etc., for the daily news. Now we expect to receive it instanter and cost-free. If we develop an entitlement of getting something for nothing, that is what it will be worth.
    Sincerely,
    Willis Wayde

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  11. Willis, you make valid points. I'm not saying, nor think, that blogs are going to replace existing news media. And like you I inherently trust most of the established sources even if they've occasionally stumbled. Blogs that serve an editorial or filtering function do move the sources sideways.
    However, other blogs that have essays or thoughts jotted down by the author, have an immediacy, an unedited rawness and unfiltered passion that is quite addictive and informative.
    I remember the excitement of reading a Blogit member's firsthand account of her experience in Crawford, TX when Michael Moore came to screen Fahrenheit 911.
    And BBC recently included photos in their stories taken by someone via Flickr phot (the oblog service acquired by Yahoo! recently). There's no longer a need to send the press photographer (as I remember having to do when I was photo editor at the Harvard Crimson).
    I agree with you that we should not expect any of this for free and it is up to the media sources to decide how to charge for it -- whether it is advertising that we click on before we can read something (as on much of Salon.com today) or Blogit where 50% of your subscription fee goes to the writers you read.
    Regards,
    Mihail

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  12. As a recently self published author of a novel entitled The Martyrs, I am keenly aware of the inability of the entrepreneurial writer to get recognition from the "gatekeepers" of the media, as you have euphemistically called the large publishing houses, NYC agents, major metropolitan newspaper and magazine book reviewers, etc.

    Freedom of speech and freedom of the press becomes pretty meaningless when you CAN speak but nobody will hear you -- like if you're a liberal guest getting fried (bullied, told to shut up, intimidated, etc.) on FOX News -- or yes, you CAN publish, but nobody will stock your book, distribute your book, review your book or represent your book.

    Even my local library system in Las Vegas, after I presented them with a book and a media kit, would have nothing to do with me -- because I hadn't gotten the nod from the gatekeepers, i.e., bonafide reviews in a respected National publication.

    But with the internet, it's a different ballgame. About a year ago, when I began this self publishing junket, if you did a google search for my name, Tono Rondone, you'd have gotten one hit, and not even my own site.

    Now, do the search and three pages of hits emerge. Why? Because I pretty much made those hits happen myself. I at least felt I had made one successful promotional effort. It hasn't garnered me any real money or recognition at large yet, but it's been the ONLY road so far I've made progress on. Sure I'm listed on Amazon dot com, but that in itself sells no books.

    The Da Vinci Code model is an excellent case in point. I thought, if one more person asks me if I read Dan Brown's book I was gonna puke! The propaganda machine was extremely well oiled on that one -- better to sell a million of one book financially than a thousand of a thousand books. But what we're left with at the end is a very dull, homogeneous Wal Mart Nation.

    So, see the documentary called "OutFoxed" about Murdoch's rape of American journalism, (even though I know about Frank's conservative leanings,) and check out my website www.piscesbooks.com.

    Oh, BTW, due to blogging, I got my novel in the hands of a major book reviewer who's actually reading it! And I didn't even have to buy him a bagel.

    Signed,

    Shameless self promoter (to me, anybody with something to say in the arts that doesn't promote himself IS shameless -- and stupid.)

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  13. Tono: Your experience is a textbook example of much that is cockeyed about publishing today.
    Mine is similar. I spent eight years (off and on) researching and writing a novel, based on the life of a real person, who fought in the Korean War and then died in a Chinese POW camp. Since then I have spent a year and a half trying to interest an agent or publisher (as you know, some smaller publishers will consider unagented novels). After 154 queries I have not had a bite.
    Here is the irony, or paradox, or something: I actually have several friends and acqaintances who are book review editors who probably would give my novel review consideration if it got published, simply because they know me. That's not a certainty, but it's more access than the avearge tyro novelist has. I have pointed this out in my inquiries, but it seems to carry no weight.
    I do not know that the problem is a Murdochian conspiracy so much as the "blockbuster mentality" filtering down to the smallest nooks and crannies. Agents and publishers look for the book that will make the big hit, or else they are looking for the book that is just like the ones they have seen before. Sometimes, I am sure, they hope that is the same thing.
    As the man said, where it will all end, knows God. Perhaps my novel is "no good"; after all, an author is the worst judge of his own writing. But since I suspect that none of those 154 actually looked at the novel or even the details of my query, I do not even have the benefit of that sort of professional assessment. And I have not yet been able to bring myself to your solution, that of self-publishing, not that I in any way condemn you for it.
    Sincerely,
    Willis Wayde

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  14. Tono: Your experience is a textbook example of much that is cockeyed about publishing today.
    Mine is similar. I spent eight years (off and on) researching and writing a novel, based on the life of a real person, who fought in the Korean War and then died in a Chinese POW camp. Since then I have spent a year and a half trying to interest an agent or publisher (as you know, some smaller publishers will consider unagented novels). After 154 queries I have not had a bite.
    Here is the irony, or paradox, or something: I actually have several friends and acqaintances who are book review editors who probably would give my novel review consideration if it got published, simply because they know me. That's not a certainty, but it's more access than the avearge tyro novelist has. I have pointed this out in my inquiries, but it seems to carry no weight.
    I do not know that the problem is a Murdochian conspiracy so much as the "blockbuster mentality" filtering down to the smallest nooks and crannies. Agents and publishers look for the book that will make the big hit, or else they are looking for the book that is just like the ones they have seen before. Sometimes, I am sure, they hope that is the same thing.
    As the man said, where it will all end, knows God. Perhaps my novel is "no good"; after all, an author is the worst judge of his own writing. But since I suspect that none of those 154 actually looked at the novel or even the details of my query, I do not even have the benefit of that sort of professional assessment. And I have not yet been able to bring myself to your solution, that of self-publishing, not that I in any way condemn you for it.
    Sincerely,
    Willis Wayde

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  15. Thank you Mr Wilson, for saving me time and money by not reading "The Da Vinci Code".
    As for this topic on "Blogit" and its writers, I started here in March of this year and until now I find it is a lot of fun. As a Belgian I have met many new people here, mostly Americans of course. But you really mustn't do this to get some financial gain out of it, because you put in much more money than you can earn by it. After all the Blogitstaff has to earn a living too. No it is just the love of writing that has to keep you going. Thanks for an interesting forum.

    Dirk Lenaerts
    Brugge - Belgium

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  16. Thank you Mr Wilson for saving me time and money by not reading "The Da Vinci Code".
    As for this "Blogit" thing, I joined up in March of this year and until now I find it a lot of fun. I have met a lot of new and interesting people, mostly Americans of course and as a European it is good to have some first-hand American views, because the media over here are not much American-minded.
    But you really shouldn't join "Blogit" for the money, as you put in a lot more than you ever can earn. After all the blogitstaff has to earn a living too.
    No, your only motive must be the joy of writing and reading, otherwise you become depressed pretty soon.
    Thanks for this great forum.

    Dirk Lenaerts
    Brugge - Belgium

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  17. Mr. Wilson, I have been writing on Blogit, off and on, for over two years and I must say that it has been helpful for my creativity.
    The whole "writing for audience" experience is great - it adds a little lube to those whose imaginations tend to get a tad bit dry.
    One may want to try it for a spell!

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