No Novel is an Island: Digital Writers Festival


How can libraries, writers, readers and publishers evolve together through online writing communities? In late 2016, I was part of an online panel discussing this question at the Digital Writers Festival. The event is available to watch online. The audio is a bit dodgy to begin with but it improves, I promise!

Here’s the blurb from the festival website:

‘Writing no longer needs to be a solitary occupation. The digital age has allowed writer’s groups and communities to spring forth across time(zones) and space. Society, friends and family can be part of the process, in fact online communities can grow audience, expand craft, and build a publishing career. Just like the writer, libraries are evolving too. But how can libraries, writers and publishing evolve together? This panel discusses untraditional collections, the value of audience, and innovation within independent publishing.’

I hope you enjoy the chat. We did.

The nostalgia and romance of typewriters

For most of us, the mechanical staccato of the typewriter has faded into memory. The push of the heavy carriage, the slap of the keys striking paper, the fingers ink-stained from replacing ribbons – all sweet nostalgia for an obsolete technology. The digital world marches on.

Not so for a dedicated band of typewriter enthusiasts, collectors and artists who are leading a revival driven by their deep affection for these machines. In fact, some writers never stopped using them. Today, you are more likely to find a vintage typewriter restored for sale in a high-end vintage shop, rather than out on the nature strip for the hard rubbish collection.

Read more in my piece for the Spectrum section of The Age/ Sydney Morning Herald.

My piece features an interview with Helen Garner reflecting on her affection for her handsome black Corona portable typewriter.

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Zine scene defies death by digital

 

My piece in the Sunday Age

My piece in the Sunday Age

Zines are low-cost, low-fi, handcrafted and independent print publications. I recently wrote a piece for The Age, a Melbourne newspaper, about how zines are bucking the trend of death by digital. In this piece, I focused on the Melbourne zine scene. I looked at why people are attracted to making and buying zines, and why institutions such as libraries are collecting these ephemeral publications.

Read the whole article here.

Profile on Ash Davies: founder of publishing start-up, Tablo

Ash Davies is the 20 year old founder and CEO of publishing start-up, Tablo. Through his start-up, Ash is aiming to make writing and publishing a book easy and social. I first met Ash earlier this year when he presented at a session of the 2013 Emerging Writers’ Festival in Melbourne. I later interviewed and wrote a profile piece on Ash. My article was published today in The Age. If you are interested in writing, ebooks and the publishing industry, or the technology start-up scene, have a read.

Ebooks and libraries: the digital disruption

Ebook publication and use has grown exponentially over the last few years. Libraries, publishers and rights holders are all struggling to adapt to the new digital landscape, and to find a workable commercial model which preserves rights and revenue, but also meets the information needs and preferences of library users.

The Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) held a think tank (#aliathinktank) in Melbourne today to explore some of the issues for libraries related to ebooks and elending. Similar sessions are being held around the country. From these think tanks, ALIA hopes to develop a sector response to assist libraries to navigate the challenges associated with collecting and lending ebooks. ALIA has developed an issues paper on the topic.

We heard from several speakers who presented from the perspectives of different types of libraries, including public, academic, state and special libraries. Panel sessions invited audience participation and dissected the issues raised in the presentations.

While ebooks promise many advantages such as reducing shelf space, and meeting user preferences for digital content and 24/7 access, there are also many challenges facing libraries in relation to ebooks. Libraries account for around 12% of book sales in Australia, so they don’t have great market power. There are difficulties negotiating reasonable contractual terms with publishers and ebook aggregators. Costs are high and escalating. There are a lack of consistent ereader devices and ebook formats. Technologies for searching and discovery do not integrate well. Ebooks are not being developed to offer the functionality promised by the digital content experience. There are licencing and lending restrictions. Libraries perceive a lack of engagement by publishers to understand their role. It is a bleak picture.

Publishers are also facing uncertain times in the wake of ebook popularity. The presenters raised thoughtful points on the opportunities for libraries in this environment. Library associations around the world are increasing their advocacy efforts to raise the public awareness of the role of libraries. Libraries hold library usage data that is of value to publishers. They meet a market demand for those who want free access to ebooks. Libraries create new audiences for buying books. They build spaces to encourage interaction with ereading. Libraries train and educate the public in ereader technologies. They provide a nexus between print and digital content. Libraries can influence publishers to produce content that meets the information needs and preferences of readers.

These are all positive and interesting points but they are not ground breaking. After 600 years of print as the dominant technology for reading, ebooks are part of a digital content revolution. As the think tank progressed it became clear that the response needed by libraries is to break and rebuild the library business model. The music industry, magazines, newspapers and publishing are all seeing their old business models disintegrate and be reimagined. Libraries are no different.

Ebooks are merely containers for content. The containers will be replaced by new ones. Just think of VHS, floppy discs and CDs. Libraries should focus on their role in facilitating access to content. Maybe this means self-publishing, forming direct relationships with authors, and curation of content. Perhaps it means becoming co-producers in partnership with publishers or others. Or it might be facilitating access to content through education, training and integration into the workflows of users. It is probably a combination of these depending on the library and the context in which it operates.

At a fundamental level libraries need to ask: what is their core purpose? Who are they serving? Who are they competing with? What is their role?

Whatever the future, it is disruptive. Ebooks are the thin end of the digital wedge. It will be fascinating to see how ALIA and the library sector responds to the challenge.

Presentations from the think tank will be available on the ALIA website.

Libraries of the future?

future-469x375What will the library of the future look like? Will it be physical or virtual? Will it be a service or a space? What will the role of the librarian be? Who will use the library and what will they use it for? Who will pay for it? Will it even exist?

All of these questions are being passionately debated with a range of different conclusions. These are questions I’ve been pondering too as I help shape the future of a significant Victorian library, and as I write an upcoming article for a library journal about the future of libraries.

In my online meanderings, I have discovered many perspectives and insights that have helped shape my thinking on this topic. I thought I’d share a selection of the best ones here so you can discover them for yourself. Some of them are specific to libraries, others are more broadly on the future of work and society. Even if you don’t work in libraries, many of the ideas are interesting, as they reflect cultural, societal and technological shifts that affect us all.

If you would like to share any other links on this topic please include them in the comments section below.

On libraries

The American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) and the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) (2012) Digital White Paper The New Librarian

Arts Council England, Envisioning the library of the future

Association of Research Libraries (2010) Envisioning research library futures: a scenario thinking project

JISC Libraries of the Future (video).

Libraries of the future (2010)

Local Government Information Unit (2012) What the library of the future could and should look like

Manuell, Naomi (2012) ‘Libraries of Babel’ in Meanjin.

Ministerial Advisory Council on Public Libraries (2012) Review of Victorian Public Libraries Stage 1 Report.

New York Times (2012) Do We Still Need Libraries? Room for debate series.

Palfrey, John (2012) Do We Still Need Libraries?

Radio National, ‘The future of libraries’ The Book Show (podcast), 30 June 2010

Radio National, ‘Future of libraries’ Australia Talks (podcast), 19 October 2011

State Library of New South Wales (2009) The bookends scenarios: alternative futures for the Public Library Network in NSW in 2030.

On the future of work and society more broadly

Intel (2012) The Future of Knowledge Work: An outlook on the changing nature of the work environment

Solis, Brian (2011) The End of Business as Usual: Rewire the Way You Work to Succeed in the Consumer Revolution

Dawson, Ross (2012) Map of the 14 major trends driving this decade

How can publishers survive? By connecting with communities

I’m interested in the idea of creating communities, whether it is virtual or physical and a recent article by Stephen S. Power got my attention. In the article Power suggests 3 ways that book publishers can avoid extinction: publish the e-book first, create communities, and engage more with libraries.

The publishing success of Fifty Shades, which originally appeared as an e-book, supports Power’s first suggestion. Now, I know not every e-book goes on to become a blockbuster, but I’m sure we’ll see other examples in the future of mainstream publishers picking up self published e-books, editing them and turning them into viable hardcopy best sellers. In fact, a recent Guardian article details the acquisition of Author Solutions, a grassroots e-book publisher, by Pearson, the owners of Penguin Books. So publishers may as well compete head-to-head with self-publishers and publish their own titles as e-books before waiting for the long production cycle of hardcopy to hit the shelves.

Then there’s the phenomenon of blogs leaping off the screen to become real-life books, Julie & Julia probably being the best know example, which also managed to cut a film deal. These days, there are even step-by-step guides on how to blog a book and become a self-published author with a (somewhat hopeful) view to being discovered by mainstream publishers.

An online self-publishing community I’ve been watching is Wattpad. I can’t speak to the success of content from this site being picked up by mainstream publishers, but I can say it’s potential exponentially increased recently. Why? Because Booker Prize winning author Margaret Atwood has jumped on board, taking the Twittersphere along with her. A prolific tweeter, Atwood posts regular references to the site. Given she has over 330,000 followers, that’s a pretty good plug for Wattpad. She even has her own poetry competition running on the site, creating more social media buzz.

This leads to Power’s second suggestion for publishers to avoid extinction – create communities. He points out that authors are household names while publishers aren’t but says this need not be the case in the future. To his point, publishers could learn a lot from – guess who – Margaret Atwood. The author has just run a successful crowd-funding campaign to launch Fanado, a mobile app which allows artists and fans to interact and for the author to sign paper books, e-books, etc over the internet. While it’s hard to imagine a publisher having the same pulling power as a star author, they do have 2 very tangible assets – books and market/sales data. If they can’t find a way to build community by translating their sales data into customer insights in the social media space and leverage off their products, which have a high emotional connection to the consumer, then they’re not trying hard enough.

Speaking of community, this brings us to Power’s third suggestion – engaging more with public libraries. It wasn’t that long ago that pundits were heralding the death of libraries, but they are now successfully recreating themselves as community and cultural hubs, with events, exhibitions, bookshops (handy for publishers!) and cafes. Importantly, many are now also doing a great job of engaging with their communities via social media and are working towards being digital hubs. Did I mention e-books before?

Power’s tips for publishers include more library outreach, sponsorship, collection development advice, and marketing collateral. These tips are reasonable and most likely already happen to varying degrees, but they focus on the products – books. A more innovative approach for publishers would be to try to tap into the community which libraries foster – physical and digital. Books need not be central to this approach, but an author’s pulling power could be.

How about virtual book-signings, creative writing classes and readings featuring well-loved authors hosted in the library, sponsored by the publisher, and using technology like Fanado, with the opportunity for interaction and participation from the community? Or publishers as guest-bloggers/ tweeters on the library’s social media spaces, giving self-publishing advice to aspiring writers? That’s got to earn the publishers some street cred with punters.

I’m sure there are many more creative and innovative possibilities for how publishers can connect with communities, but there’s a starting point and some food for thought…