The evolution of revolution

Contributed by
Sep 13, 2007
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My mancrush Wil Wheaton just wrote an excellent essay about the information revolution underway (warning: it's posted on Suicide Girls, a very NSFW but very cool site).

In the essay, Wil makes a point that took me years to get: the internet is making small things big, virally, and it's doing it for free. A band that can never make it to a record label can get distribution through YouTube. A writer who can't get a book contract can write a pretty good blog and get thousands of readers. An actor can make movies and put them on any of a number of video sites.

Old media (especially movies and radio) are dying, but their death throes are damaging new media too. Wil makes this point about DRM, the RIAA, and other hurtful acronymicious things. They are scared of teh 'tubes, so they try to make them knuckle under. It's not working well.

This took me a while to understand, when I was still mostly doing things for old media. I wrote for magazines, I had a book out through a "real" publisher (and another on the way -- caveat emptor; I think the book publishing industry still has lots of life left in it... more on that in a sec). Fraser showed me the path, and I am choosing to walk it now. I will be doing more and more online, and letting the actual end user decide if they like it or not. I won't stop doing old media if they ask, but I find myself less inclined to as time goes on. The money is good, but that's not enough to motivate me. That's why I have an RSS feed; getting more readers is more important to me than squeezing an extra dime out of each one of them. Old media still hasn't figured that out. And even getting more readers isn't as important to me as getting good content to them -- in other words, more readers is good, but better readers is better. Not everyone will like what I write, and that's fine. A lot of folks still will, and they can find me.

Put it this way: I have something like 30,000 readers, more or less, and that number is a substantial fraction of the number of subscribers to any given astronomy magazine. My numbers are going up, but the number of subscribers for any given magazine is going down. Why?

Content. Ease of use. Speed: I can post astronomy news in a day, sometimes faster, but a magazine takes months. They have websites, but the sites typically aren't much different from the magazine itself. They don't see the difference.

I do. Some of what I write might fit this magazine or that, but all of what I write fits here. The BABlog.

I like print magazines, I honestly do. I prefer to sit and read an actual glossy hardcopy. But they are on the way out, I think. There is simply too much in them the reader doesn't want, and it's very easy for that same reader to find blogs that give them precisely what they do want. Books, however, are different. I'm not so sure books are on the way out; very few people I know like to read that much content on a monitor. That's one of many reasons I may stick with writing books. There is something magical about holding a book in your hands... and publishers are starting to see advantages of new media. I know of a couple of people who turned serial podcasts of their work into novels into "real" publishing deals. My publisher appears happy to have me working hard on the 'net to promote the book as well. Old and new media can work together and make the transition not only painless but profitable for both.

Radio and movie corporations have yet to figure that out. They seem to prefer jealousy and pain.

Even the website hosting Wil's article, Suicide Girls, shows his point: it takes the best of old and new and make something even newer. ScienceBlogs, as another example, is sponsored by Seed magazine, and they are making a real go of switching gears. Ironically, I suspect ScienceBlogs may outlive the print mag.

I suspect a lot of things will outlive print magazines. Heck, I'm betting my career on it. I quit my day job to write my next book (which will be published by Viking Press, a respected old media house), but what will I do in the year between sending in the manuscript and seeing it printed? The real answer is, write another book -- for a publishing house, too. :-) But I will also be redoubling my efforts here, making this blog better, and vastly increasing my online presence.

This series of tubes is a pretty good thing, and as much as the acronyms thrash, they cannot kill it. They'll try, and the government will help, but with our participation we can keep this going for a good long time.