Or “Shotgun Ideas about A Centralized Writer’s Website,” is something I wrote in 1998 or so and sent to Frances McCue at Richard Hugo House and she would actually read something as long as babbly and manic as this. I just found it doing house-cleaning. It’s the kind of thing I would have put on a blog in 1998. I think it captures some of my optimism at the time and some of the heady excitement about Richard Hugo House. It hadnt yet become the broken-spring powered mechanism that is now. The Stranger also ran local books coverage. This was also an era when librarian’s hadn’t really adapted in a big way to the web. My conclusions on this front end up being whacked. Since 1998, librarians have been one of the few professions I think to really advocate for user rights on the Web both to digital access but also to the privacy of their digital records (such as the list of books they check out). They have shifted their professional responsibilities to accommodate changes in the digital world. With computer access becoming a function of the library, the library has become a site of producing new literary text in addition to a site of consumption.
Shooting the Library
Shotgun Ideas about A Centralized Writer’s Website
I feel the print-literary world is like a car caught in the headlights as we make this shift from a print/paper media to an oral, digital one. Instead of taking advantage of the new liberty, there seems to be a general fear and reluctance to learn the ropes of the new order. Independent book sellers, for instance, blame The New York Book Times Review for providing links to Barnes & Noble instead of aggressively cutting them off at the pass and providing their own links and own online services. The times are changing because communication is becoming cheaper, easier, and, well, better than it has ever been. But that is all. Human beings aren’t changing and will still want books and they are going to want information and they will want to belong to a community. The digital age doesn’t mean the death of the book. It doesn’t mean the death of curiosity. I think it better to take the bulls by the horn and reinvent things while the mold of the new culture is still wet and before it sets.
I’m reading The Collected Stories of Barnard Malamud (in paper, in a hardback book I have to hold in my hands) and many of his stories are about neighborhood store owners getting outmoded by the coming of chain A&P stores. It seems like a very American story. These store owners are caught in the inertia of their own lives, and make a few half-hearted attempts to forestall the coming of the A&P–one family store attempts to lease the space next door to a shoe salesman instead of the chain store. The shoe salesman takes one look at the store and tells the family grocer, “if an A&P moves in next door, you better sell your stuff and get out of town. I myself, don’t want a shoes store in this lousy neighborhood.” And he leaves the family grocer, who keeps his store and watches the A&P assemble itself in corporate precision and then finds it carries all the brands he carries and even more brands still for less money. Instead of moving, he muddles along until he’s bankrupt. Never once does he try to change his operation; find more information; take an active role in his fate. The inertia and adherence to his old dreams locks him into failure.
The writing culture as a whole is like this. What is a book when the idea of a book, itself, is under revision? If a books are thoughts made tangible, what are paperless books? I think these are some of the questions that are just now being addressed in the new technology, and I think as they are answered a great deal of creative energy will be released.
I think the web is a perfect medium for traditional writers. Unlike all of the other media, (i.e., sounds, graphics, video) because writing is itself a digital technology, the web serves it well. However, even though it has the potential to fulfill Marshal McLuhan’s potential to make everyone an author, there’s more to it than mere internet access. Making everyone an author is a architectural problem that requires an organized commitment from the community. I think Hugo House’s roll as a community writing center makes the resolution of this problem a natural outgrowth of its mission.
I feel that the book culture as a whole is undergoing a massive shift. Chain book stores have moved in as representatives of the national media. That is, these are bookstores selling books from a publishing industry that sees is a vanity press for other media. How does selling copies of rock stars’ and comedians’ and national political figures propaganda tracts and self-help and feeding of your new age soul books help the independent book culture? These are object that resemble real books, but they aren’t. They are widgets embodying advertising and the values of our SuperMall culture and they are nerve gas to regional and independent culture. I went into a B. Dalton the other day and literally couldn’t find a singe book I wanted to buy besides a few Vintage Contemporaries and a handful of Signet paperbacks.
The local and independent bookstores have either died (as in the instantaneous death of the University Village’s Kay’s Bookmark, or have refined their role as something other than purely a place to buy books to a community resource as in Red & Black Books. Independent bookstores serve specific populations. They serve as a community information clearing house; they serve as a place for local information consumers and writers to do business; and even a place that provides a venue, in online publishing, in actual hardcopy publishing, and archiving this information, and have active reading series/book signing to traffic coming through the doors and books going out their doors. They need to provide more specific and broader services than Barnes & Noble and Borders.
Barnes & Noble and Borders are better bookstores when it comes to providing books at the lowest possible cost. You can’t compete with them on that front. But it seems to me that, that is only a small part of what a bookstore is. That’s how a bookstore earns money, but you can’t tell me that anyone who opens a bookstore hoped to get rich running a bookstore. Certainly the chain stores are getting rich, but they work just like a Wal*Mart. The thing they are selling is a unit of product not a book.
And as the old resources dry up, the in-fighting seems to be getting heavier.
I do love writing and I even love most writers (no matter how freakish, self-serving, and freakish they become, because at least they are trying to say something even if it is half formed and inarticulate. It’s something.)
I think to a large extent the energy for writers has been to blow up what the establishment has been pushing and it comes from genuine frustration with what the are doing. The Romantics turned on their predecessors and became the establishment. The Pre-Raphlealietes turned on Romantics. The Moderns turned on the Victorians. (And then WWII happened and things started to fragment.) The Academic world was invented from the get go as the establishment with New Criticism. The Beats turned in opposition to that but really seemed to me to sort of echo a new twist in the whole thing, where the Establishment and the Anti-Establishment are part of the same mess. It makes it a little more difficult to rebel. Now you have the whole MFA-industrial complex (the inheritors of the house that New Criticism built) and the self described Avant Garde operating in opposition to that. Iowa takes a stand on model fiction. So, the anti-establish makes an opposite stand. BUT it is all the same thing.
It would be great if we had a settled culture and artists could refine and develop existing forms and concentrate on depth of expression rather than being cutting edge and pushing the envelope and eating their teachers. But part of the energy for better or worse of being an American writer is that huge changes are always happening and they are always threatening to marganilize someone. But these changes are opportunities. It pisses me off that small press world is rolling over and dying.
This fantastic technology (i.e., e-mail and the web) has been handed to writers, a perfect way, really, to build community and share ideas. You’d think there’d be an explosion of ideas at this late date — especially in a place like Seattle.
But it seems like the same kinds of problems that were around when my uncle was writing (in the mid 1970s) still plague Seattle. Writers are afraid of being identified as regionalists, so they spend there time obsessed with national writers and writing fads like this current wave of Gonzo Realism (Mark Amerika, Lance Olson, David Foster Wallace, Thomas Pynchon); writers spend a lot of energy seeking national attention, and so we lose them to MFA programs and cities with actual publishing and writing opportunities rather than build those opportunities here; writers that are in Seattle have spent so much time building there own personal writing clubs that these serve more as admiration societies than actual forums. And I think these groups often alienate audiences (usually the alienation is intentionally, based on misunderstood and now antique modernist ideas). The region lacks a solid magazine committed to actual cultural criticism and committed to finding and publishing worth-while fiction. The state of poetry is in pretty good shape in comparison and I believe that’s because open mics, magazines like Fine Madness, outlets like Red Sky, serve poetry pretty well. However, poetry, too, could get larger audiences and have more of an impact. All of the magazines in the area serve special populations (Bellowing Ark), work as the organ of one of the area’s writing clubs (Point No Point and even The Raven Chronicles), or work as the vanity project of an international research institution (Seattle Review).
These magazines I think all had higher intentions at one point or another. But cash or folk’s volunteer energy (i.e., vanity) to keep them going, they need grant money if they know how to get it or ad money if they know how to get it, or to serve the needs of the institute and sponsors if they know how to get it. The bottom line–readers–is not being served by these magazines, because they have all learned other ways of underwriting the magazine. It seems to me, without readers, you do not have literature.
The region lacks a solid press committed to actual cultural criticism and committed to finding and publishing worth-while fiction. Now Sasquatch Press has made some noise about publishing regional fiction, but I haven’t seen anything yet besides tourist books and cook books. And Black Heron Press is all right but like most really small presses seems committed to publishing stuff that just wouldn’t have a prayer with a major publisher (but I do think this press seems to be all right, overall).
The region lacks a bookstore committed to fostering and developing regional writers and regional publishers. Elliot Bay makes a noise about it, but their efforts seem sort of cursory and aloof. They’ll support a regional author if they their books come from New York. Borders and Barnes & Noble, as a chain store, does just about as much to foster any sense of regional literature. All of the remaining independent bookstore, to survive against the chains, serve special populations. Things that seemed like major positive developments in the last couple of years are just turning into more domination by outside publishers and special interest groups in Seattle to push their own PR rather than an opportunity to develop a vibrant regional culture. The NorthWest BookFest features New York writers (often without any real affiliation with the NorthWest), just as the Arts & Lecture series features national literary Celebes, and so on.
I feel like all of this stare outward serves no real purpose. It doesn’t build a regional audience. It builds an audience for products of the New York publishing industry.
This is a corrupt and dying industry. It serves more and more the making of money and as a vanity industry for other media. This is an industry that will cut over a hundred literary books even though they were making money but will pay six million dollars in advance for a biography of Whoopi Goldberg that will probably not earn out. This is an industry that is notorious for not understand the local appeal of writers, of letting good writers fall between the cracks.
I think it is time to reinvent publishing using the new technology as way of getting things done precisely and efficiently and the example of the failure of centralized, sprawling, commercial industry to avoid. But there are also a lot of success stories in the NorthWest. I think the example of Wood Works press is admirable because its message is that a writer doesn’t need New York to produce and publish enduring, well designed work. I think the example of zine’s like Farm Pulp is admirable because its message is that a writer doesn’t need anyone to produce and publish vibrant, catchy self-promoting ephemeral work. The NorthWest is full of disparate sources of good work; Sub Rosa does all right, Nine Muses does ok, Black Heron does well enough. But they need to centralize their efforts and begin building an audience of readers and find ways to find, attract, and build good writers.
But that is impossible as long as audiences and writers keep staring at this the brilliant and dying light of the New York publishing industry. I think Richard Hugo House addresses many of the concerns I’d feared would never even be talked about. It provides a focal point for regional writing, small press writing, and a resource for non-MFA writers. I think if Hugo house is coupled to a new style bookstore/publishing company/information service it could be like nothing has been in the past. Online it could provide discussion areas, calendars, and articles. I see the central point of the whole thing as a gigantic slush pile where anyone in Hugo House community (Seattle area) could send in whatever they wanted. When they posted a submission to the slush pile they’d fill out their own online reference information (virtual card catalogue). The posting process would provide a graphic continuity to the work submitted. Once posted, readers for the slush pile could cull out what they wanted, and refer to a monthly column (in this sense they would be gatekeepers but the gates would be open to anyone who wants to look into the slush themselves.) Also publishers could find material in the gigantic slush as well. They could sort through the slush using the virtual card catalogue, word searches, or whatever.
The second component to this would be to develop active networks of reading groups and other ways of audience building, using Hugo House, independent bookstores, and used bookstores not only to market the books but to develop a connections between audiences and writers.
The third component to this, would be high quality, inexpensive small publisher in the vein of Black Heron Press, Blue Heron Press, or even Wordworks, who could publish hard copy (maybe by subscription) to the reading groups. These would have to be books of the highest quality, well designed, and built for reading with a similar size and graphic look to both extend the general feeling of the House but also develop a sort of communal standard. I’m thinking of the hard impact of book lines like Everyman Library, Penguin, and Vintage Contemporaries. (And record sleeves like the Blue Note and Sub Pop.) Furthermore, this would be an interesting opportunity to explore emerging technologies like books on demand.”
The synergy between the different components could be very interesting. The physical structure of Hugo house would serve as the focal point for a small print/digital culture. The web space could serve as a place where a writer would see her work submitted into the general slush, the other work being submitted into the slush and find writers of a like mind and develop her own connections with them; she could see her work selected as a feature by a reviewer, she could see her work selected for publication by literary magazine; and she could find her manuscript selected by a reading group/or editor for publication in book form. Thus, this would facilitate the flow of information between writers and would provide a democratic and successful forum for published books. Also, the web page could provide a source of revenue by selling books. Reading groups could recommend books or writer reviews of books and post the pages and by providing a link directly to Amazon.com-each book sold would earn the site 15% of the cover price.
I have no idea what kind of audience you’re talking about here, but even one of several hundred, if they are all writers involved in exchanging ideas could make for a very potent and vital literary subculture. There’s a lot of things that can be done and right now Hugo House is a blank slate. It doesn’t have an identity and it would be nice to hand as much of that identity forming over to the community before the various writing clubs move in to lay stake to it. I think the web site would be a nice leveler and a sort of logical extension of Hugo Houses’ mission. Lunacy is the key and thinking that there is an audience out there for this. What kind of an audience is it? mostly male, white, etc., until one can educate on the usefulness of this technology….but I find women on the whole still have too many conflicts on their time to be able to ever take to this technology in droves, well maybe not younger women coming up…..
Actually the only feedback and submission I have seen so far at the Raven Chronicles have been from women (and Paul Hunter and Jim Andrews). The person who spoke up in the audience at your panel was also a women. So I think the web, in its inclusiveness and reliance on verbal forms for presentation – i.e., email, chat rooms, etc — rather than physical presence works as a very female friendly environment, once you get past the macho technobabble aspect of it. But a good web browser and keyboard, and text heavy web site is more suitable to women than men (who want movement and graphic in there sites, I’m guessing.) For instance Salon Magazine seems to target youngish mom’s as there audience; they even have a regular series of articles geared toward “thinking moms.” I don’t know how the Raven Chronicles fits exactly into the picture as all the traditional conceptions of what is a magazine, what is a publisher, gets sort of melted: I think if Hugo House is coupled to a new style bookstore/publishing company/information service it could be quiet a bit more interactive/forceful than either The Loft or the New York Y. (Although the New York YMCA now has a site and it looks all right.)
Online services could provide discussion areas, calendars, and articles. I see the central point of the whole thing as a gigantic slush pile/online yellow pages where anyone in the Hugo House community (Seattle area) could send in whatever they wanted. They could also submit an index card (in a sense hanging their virtual shingle). When they posted a submission to the slush pile they’d fill out their own online reference information (virtual card catalogue). The posting process would provide a graphic continuity to the work submitted. Once posted, readers for the slush pile could cull out what they wanted, and refer to a monthly online magazine (in this sense they would be gatekeepers but the gates would be open to anyone who wants to look into the slush themselves.) Also publishers could find material in the gigantic slush as well. They could sort through the slush using the virtual card catalogue, word searches, or whatever. I’m not sure at what point space would be an issue. On one hand it is sort of a unique opportunity to just keep the doors open, and not have any kind of selection process. And on the other hand, it would probably be pretty easy to have submitted pieces expire if they aren’t accessed often enough. They could then be archived in a more permanent medium — tape back up or something and the pieces that survived would survive because they are attracting readers… sort of survival of the fittest read. I guess overall — the web server would be like a gigantic office network with built in meta-tools to ensure that all of the information collected would be indexed and accessible and hyperlinked.
The second component to this would be to develop active networks of reading groups and other ways of audience building, using Hugo House, independent bookstores, and used bookstores not only to market the books but to develop a connections between audiences and writers. The third component to this, would be high quality, inexpensive small publisher in the vein of Black Heron Press, Blue Heron Press, or even WordWorks, who could publish hard copy (maybe by subscription) to the reading groups.
Hi there, Thanks for your interest in Powell’s. We too are very excited about the changes in the bookselling industry. Re: Books-in-Demand we too are exploring the feasibility of this venture. I know that Ingram too plans to print books in this manner soon. I think we can expect to see things move in this area in the next few years.
Re: partnership programs we are putting on in place as we speak and should have it in place by this evening. We will be offering a referral fee of 10% on all books purchased by a customers arriving from a site. We figure that this is more attractive as the referring site can just link to our home page or entire sections to earn the fee and this is a far simpler process. Please let me know if you are interested in this and I will email you the details tomorrow morning.
Thanks Kanth Powell’s Books Kanth Gopalpur Marketing Manager, Powell’s Books
mbriggs wrote: Dear Powell Books: I saw a special on NW Cable news about your bookstore that peaked my interest about the kinds of services and markets you may be developing. I work with The Raven Chronicles, a North West Literary magazine, on their web site and with Th e Richard Hugo House, that is just beginning to establish a web presence. I am very interested in knowing more about how Powell’s will deal the changes in book industry or at least your response to these changes.
1) Books on Demand. This last fall Simon & Schuster announced that they are almost ready to release a books-on-demand machine that will be like a large copier and will produce finished products from an full electronic catalog. By eliminating back-stock and placing the responsibility of producing a hard copy book in the lap of the consumer, I think this will revolutionize how books are published. It completely alleviates the 90 day sell or die pressure of returns, but it also allows a publisher to release books that address very specific markets because they will no longer have to commit to an X sized print run.
2) Selling Books on the Internet. Amazon.com offers a very lucrative partnership p program. All of the sites I work on link directly to Amazon.com. I earn 15% of the cover price for each book I sell, which in a sense makes book selling through an online content provider (modeled along the lines of http://www.salonmagazine.com) very lucrative. Content draws information seekers to the site and well written reviews foster interest in books. If readers know that buying book from through a site (books they would be anyway) would help that site, they will buy books this way over going directly to the bookstore. Hugo House in Seattle has an advantage over a bookstore in that it offers classes, s o it has students, has writers of reputation curator reading series, and will soon be offering a literary magazine. In a sense, it is well positioned already as a central point for readers to go to find information.
3) I think these two changes radically alter what a book is. No longer is it merely a printed artifact, but it is a hypertext event, coming in both a book (but that is, a graphically united statement that doesn’t have to be a printed a artifact (check out http://home.earthlink.net/~lvpurdy/seedcake) This site explores a graphic/information statement that is at once a book and not a book, since the printed artifact is just an afterthought. I don’t see these changes as slowing down bookselling, but augmenting and making it more exciting. Remember, computers were suppose to usher in a paperless office! And now it’s like everyone had their own little printing press siting on their desk. These changes will just make books more desirable and interesting.
4) I am also wondering if you are planning on establishing partnerships or sponsors with arts organization like The Raven Chronicles or Hugo House.
The synergy between the different components could be very interesting. The physical structure of Hugo house would serve as the focal point for a small print/digital culture. The web space could serve as a place where a writer would see her work submitted into the general slush, the other work being submitted into the slush and find writers of a like mind and develop her own connections with them; she could see her work selected as a feature by a reviewer, she could see her work selected for publication by a literary magazine; and she could find her manuscript selected by a reading group/or editor for publication in book form. Thus, this would facilitate the flow of information between writers and would provide a democratic and successful forum for published books (and it would even provide a sort of communal standard to react against and a means to voice that reaction.) Also, the web page could provide a source of revenue by selling books. Reading groups could recommend books or writer reviews of books and post the pages and by providing a link directly to Amazon.com-each book sold would earn the site 15% of the cover price. I have no idea what kind of audience we’re talking about here, but even one of several hundred, if they are all writers involved in exchanging ideas could make for a very potent and vital literary deal.
Some of the work I don’t know how to do. I’m pretty sure we’d need someone to modify an existing Perl script. It wouldn’t be a big deal but we’d want something that produced very functional, simple files in a format that’d be easy to extract text from. Hopefully once it got going, it would sort of assemble itself. I think the technical aspects are less daunting to me than explaining what it is I have in mind and making actual writers understand what it is. In a sense it is sort of a way of building simple homepages for people who don’t want to take the time to learn any HTML, but it would serve as a nice framework to link to pages with people who are really using the medium (Jim Andrews and the links he supports on his page) or just have something to say (Arthur Tulee, Ron Dakron, Joe Keppler).
I think one frustration with teaching artist in the web is that the cultural model for what an artist is, is a bit out of wack. I also think the image the NEA has of itself is also a bit out of alignment. But these are resolvable things and the new media can be put to get good use by artists – but in a certain sense I don’t think they necessarily need to know how to program HTML/PERL, etc. I think most visual artists and writers would learn these things once they were comfortable with the web as media. But right now, traditional artists need a simple, clean way to declare their presence. I think an interactive site using a simple PERL script and interactive forms could easily erect individual of sites that would help most artist use the web, i.e., to promote their work and to share information with other artists. I think it was too ambitious to steep artists in HTML and multimedia culture in a six month period and then expect them to throw something up.
For myself, I’ve been building the Raven Chronicles site for over a year and have found that few writers use the web. Andrew Dillon, at the University of Indiana, isn’t surprised by this because he feels that the ergonomics of the screen and web are just not as good as paper. I’d have to agree with him. There are ways of subverting the media to include longer texts, but it flies in the face of Marshal McLuhan.
http://www.earthlink.net/~lvpurdy/seedcake, is my way of using the web as a publication tool. It uses Acrobat files to encase longer narratives in highly reader friendly digital files. Rather than the fluid nature of HTML; which demands that long text passages get broken down and are always displayed in an interface that can take a reader anywhere at any second, an Acrobat file is just like placing a book on the web that can then be accessed. This is a blend of how writers use media and the possibilities of the internet as a publication tool, rather than allowing the multimedia culture to dictate to me how to organize my writing. It maintains the idea of the book; which is a form of a communication writers are committed to, I think, and one that the Internet, as a loose collection of scattered constantly changing texts threatens.
Anyway, I’m using that as a sort of specific case study of how the needs of an artist conflict with the web technology and one of the many roadblocks between this “information revolution” and what the web currently is, a glorified yellow-pages.
The NEA is sort of self-important if they see themselves as cultural emissaries helping to usher individual artists from an academic-grant support model to employment in high tech companies that need their “creative skills”. (In a sense, getting them off the dole). When the reality is, most visual artists work other jobs already and the grants are too few and far in-between for them to depend on them. I can only think of a handful of writers who can earn a living as writers or as teachers (and not a single where the grants in and of themselves provide support). The cultural activity that the NEA is claiming responsibility for isn’t being underwritten by them or the universities. And so there is no dole to get them off. And this cultural activity (as little as it is) will continue regardless of the existence of the NEA. Where the culture will feel the absence of the NEA won’t be in the presence of individual artists, but in presence of fine-arts in the community. Most civic theaters and city theaters, ballet companies, opera companies, symphonies see or hope to see some money from the NEA – and in many cases actually depend on this money.
At the last meeting with the Open Studio, it was clear that the money had run out and it was clear that the majority of artists weren’t yet self-sufficient in administrating their own web site.
“Maybe our web training would help us get employment…” In my own case, the last three jobs I’ve applied to with Open Studio listed, I received the same response as before; that I don’t have the correct sequence of degrees… My experience in development has been that many people in the business world don’t know what the fine arts are, or why they’d need support, or even how the fine-arts impact their own lives. They usually don’t know what the NEA is, aside from the fact that it was always under attack. The attitude toward fine arts is that if it can’t turn a box-office profit, or an artist can’t sell work for a tidy profit, than it’s not culturally worthwhile. Only money is culturally worthwhile. However, I think most of the vital cultural activity isn’t happening in the realm of academic-grant supported art. It definitely isn’t happening in the business world because I don’t think the making of money serves the culture very well.
Pornographers are the only ‘content’ providers earning money on the internet. That is money.
The Internet has the potential to be a tool for the arts because it is inexpensive in providing content. However, it is expensive in other ways. State of the art computer equipment is expensive. There isn’t a learning curve because computer technology changes so rapidly, the curve is leveled out and becomes a slope of constant adjustment and assimilation of new technology. And also, there is an entirely different range of tools that need to be learned to begin with, and someone has to teach them. And finally the kind of money were talking about compared to the kind of money available makes evil math.
I think the only successful strategy for building a useful technological tool for artists would be to eliminate the money factor and to eliminate the technology factor. Computer technology excels at customized, easy to use interface design. Build an interface that uses an intuitive input model and can incorporate artists work. It wouldn’t be difficult to build a PERL script that could erect simple pages with interactive forms. This would quickly build a simple presence for artists. Artists attracted to the medium, could learn how to make more sophisticated sites on their own terms – by investing the time it takes to learn HTML/Perl, and so on, but the basic functionality of the web would be immediately available to them.
And the other key component, would be that this site would have to be centralized. One of the overriding issues, I think, of the internet is that even though it provides a lot of meta-information, it is extremely poorly organized. Infoseek/Yahoo/ etc. are easily manipulated and are not nearly as good as the Dewey Decimal system. The NEA could host this site, or SAM, or the Seattle Art Museum. And it could provide the kind of overall indexed structure that the arts community would have someplace to hang their hat.
Some of this is happening in people’s garages – like the Northwest Artist Consortium and the fantastic http://www.meer.net/~johnl/e-zine-list/. I am learning PERL, but who knows how long it will be before I know enough to do what I think would work.
> I think this is a very difficult period because of several needs and aspirations expressed by institutions *and* artists *and* arts organizations all of which have something to offer, but not the means to fully implement something on a larger scale.
I think, to best utilize the small resources everyone has, there needs to be a sort of holistic approach to building a larger-interrelated structure. Essentially, what we’re building, hopefully, will be along the lines of a standard office network, but instead of the workstations sitting on in an office–these workstations will be in libraries, at Speakeasy, in individual artist’s studios, and on writer’s desks. (Which is essentially the internet, anyway, isn’t it? But this will be a sort of virtual card catalogue containing links to individuals and writing communities. Rather than collecting links by going to Infoseek, you could just go this resource. The Seattle Community Net. is sort of like this. Minnesota has an interesting state wide arts sight. And Victoria BC has a pretty impressive, at least I thought a year or so ago, community sight. Some coordination can hopefully come from somewhere. In addition to the actual web page, their needs to be an ongoing education of and evaluation by the arts community. Artist need to be shown the hows and why’s they’d want to publish on the internet. The site needs to facilitate publication for them with a point and click interface and the site needs to change as their expectations and skills grow and change.
It makes me nervous that that NEA and Open Studio people are exploring the Internet as a place of housing artists/writers. If that is the case, then writers and artists need to get on the stick and make sure the Internet can accommodate them, because right now, an 8 bit lossy JPEG that’s only 300 pixels wide does not equal a wall mural. And hypertext does not equal a Smyth bound, full color dust-jacketed, printed novel. In one way, I see it as a *very* interesting development in the arts community and am curious to see how things will go as Open Studio and the arts community progresses over this next year.
Without the education aspect, which I had hoped Open Studio was going to supply, it’s difficult to justify the real relevance of the internet, I think, to artists and writers. Many writers are reluctance, I think, to pursue using the internet as a communication tool because it seems like a reader-unfriendly environment, it doesn’t have the prestige and permanence of books and libraries, and it’s always changing and always strange and seems antithetical to the pen and ink and paper. I agree with these concerns but an electric guitar is louder than an acoustic guitar, a printing press makes more copies than a scribe, and the internet is both louder and makes more copies more inexpensively. cheaper. Technology right now belongs to business. I think it will require a web-educated audience to subvert this negative aspect of the web. It doesn’t have to reader unfriendly. It doesn’t have to be transitory and ever changing if writers use to communicate with each other through writing, use it promote books they love, and use it’s fantastic archival possibilities.
Anyway, hope we can meet soon and talk about all of this. Thanks, Matt. I reread that piece a while ago and thought it was still relevant, for the most part. The commercial element and integration into publishing and libraries still hasn’t happened, for the most part. I think it has to happen, don’t you?
I approached what I thought was a pretty good publisher (Talonbooks in BC) about publishing a manuscript of mine, much of which is now on my Web site, in conjunction with a fine Web effort about a year and a half ago. Basically they weren’t interested in the Web, and felt that the idea of electronic presentation could destroy their revenue–why buy a book when you can copy an electronic copy, etc.
And they didn’t even get around to reading my manuscript. Needless to say, I have less respect for them than I once had. They’ve been really good as a print publisher of BC Avant Garde work for years, certainly the best in BC and one of the best in Canada. And they even are pretty good at book design, actually very good on occasion, and none of their books are design turkeys.
Yet they are completely clueless about the Web and willfully so. The commercial infrastructure isn’t there, however, it must be admitted. Neither in terms of the software required to support an electronic publishing effort nor in terms of audience. Outfits like amazon.com are doing quite well, thank you, but they’re booksellers.
I think that the amount of work involved and the culture shift also are very intimidating to publishers.
The company I work for specializes in developing the software for things like online publishing ventures. That’s one of the reasons I came to work for TechWave (being broke was another…there were others). I still think that the artists will have to show it can be done with great gusto and significance and sufficient profit before the publishers will elbow in.
I feel like the public’s understanding of how publishing and libraries work has become very antiquated, now. What is a library when books are just one form of literary communication?
Well, they’re still symbolic of all that is influential and powerful in the public dissemination of ideas. The attitude is still largely that if it isn’t in a book it doesn’t count, isn’t good enough to be there. The public seems to expect them to help them get ushered into the next medium (in this case Hypertext of the HTML variety) but they don’t seem to understand that mere access to a browser is only one component. The real revolution is in the simplicity of posting a web page in garden variety HTML.
It’s true that when you put a page on the Web (and people can find it) you have a kind of distribution that is hard or impossible to attain otherwise.
Even though HTML is really simple, most writers still haven’t learned how to use it. The WEB is a great way to get around the publishing industry – as your page testifies. Any way I’d be interested in hearing your thought on libraries/publishing and the web. Aside from my “Text is Dead!” stance, I also think the really interesting thing about web information is how much a part meta-information and index information is part of creating new information. Old time books didn’t automatically have card-catalogue entries. Now, when a writer creates something or the web, he also writes up how it is connected to the larger discourse. Yes. Meta tags and feeding the search engines are important for any new document. Also, links in from related sites (by the way, I linked to Raven from my Literary Links page). These are achieved through the natural and rewarding process of dialog with others doing related stuff on the Web–and doing good work on your site.
Librarians shudder when they think of the Web. Not so much out of feeling threatened. But because they are highly trained in large scale information indexing and storage and see the situation on the Web as being a big mess. And in many ways it is. But all the better reason for them to get their act together concerning the Web. They’re the pros when it comes to organizing information and they’re needed badly on the Web.