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Future of Publishing

Tunis day-dream/ banned sites on the internet

1 December 2008 | Comments (0)

Just back from Tunis where I spent a couple of days working as part of the Medi-Cafe group for the British Council.  We had a productive time, mixing discussions about the art and craft of writing with discussions about the Maghreb, in particular, Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria.  As always, the Tunisians were great hosts - we spent our working sessions in a palace on the sea in Carthage.  Seriously. A palace on the sea in Carthage.  I sat by this window for a while during one session - I could hear the sea outside and the sun shone on my legs.  Sun!  In November!  Why do I live in northern Europe?  Why did that seem like a good idea at the time?

An issue that arose during some of our discussions was this:  the Tunisian government has taken to banning websites, including You Tube and the Daily Motion, two of the most important sites world-wide for sharing videos. One of my students was telling me that she can’t access most of the videos on ‘Flight Paths’ and we wondered why… but of course many of those videos are hosted on You Tube and linked to from there into the Netvibes Universe that hosts ‘Flight Paths’.  Chris and I will need to rethink the strategy of keeping videos on You Tube.

Banned sites has been a bit of a feature of my teaching of late, as on the online MA in Creative Writing and New Media we’ve discovered that our students in Oman and Ethiopia can’t access Skype - banned by the gov’ts who have done deals with phone companies to prevent access to free telephony.  We use Skype a lot in our teaching, but will find alternatives now.  Also, Oman bans googlegroups. Banning You Tube seems particularly draconian.  But that’s the Tunisian gov’t for you.  Maybe being allowed to live in northern Europe isn’t such a bad thing after all…

Bad News

26 November 2008 | Comments (0)

Despite our reputations as innovators in the world of creative writing and new media, my colleague at De Montfort University, Sue Thomas, and I sent the following e-mail out to our students and colleagues on the MA in Creative Writing and New Media earlier today.

We are very sorry indeed to have to tell you that the Online MA in Creative Writing and New Media will not be taking any new students and will close once this year’s intake have finished their studies in 2010. The MA is taught by a highly-experienced team with visiting lecturers drawn from some of the best new media writers and artists around the world, but we have been told that the degree is losing money and in the current economic climate De Montfort University cannot afford to subsidise it, so the Faculty of Humanities has taken the decision to close it. Today we’ll be announcing the situation more widely but we wanted to tell you first.

Over the next couple of weeks we’ll work to make sure that each of you is fully informed about your personal route through the degree. Full Time and Second Year students will progress through as normal. It will take us a little more time to decide how to proceed with the First Year programme - please bear in mind that we did not know about the decision to close the programme until late yesterday afternoon so it will take us a little while to digest. But do rest assured that we will make sure everyone has a very good experience right to the end.

We have both put a great deal of effort into devising and teaching this degree, and have broken much new ground both in online teaching methods and in the development of new media itself. We’re proud of working with all of you ?? each one of you is a high-level creative innovator and we are hugely enjoying our time together. We’d like to thank you for your hard work and commitment.

If you have any questions about the financial or administrative implications of the course closure, please contact the Graduate Office. Other questions should be directed to myself or to Kate.

Incidentally, if you have friends who were thinking of applying for next year, do tell them that there will still be opportunities to study with us via an MA by Independent Study or via a PhD, and we hope that you yourselves will consider a PhD with us once you have graduated from this degree. There is still a great deal of new ground to be broken in this area, and we plan to continue that work.

Very warm wishes.

Kate and Sue

Another ill-informed rant about e-books

12 November 2008 | Comments (0)

I have no desire to become a publisher, not even a self-publisher, though of course I might be driven to it one day, either because no one will publish me anymore (hasn’t happened yet, fingers crossed) or because I figure out a way to do it while retaining some kind of foothold in the market.  Though I am very very weary of the whole ‘future of publishing/future of books/end of books/end of reading as we know it’ discussion, it still annoys me to hear publishers complaining about the cost of converting their business to the digital.  I understand that the costs of creating fully digital content accessible across multiple platforms is substantial, but the truth is that all digital formats, when delivered electronically, dramatically cut the costs of publishing, once you take warehouses and shipping out of the equation.

So why are ebooks so ridiculously expensive?

In the past year I’ve been to a couple of events to discuss the future of publishing at large mainstream UK publishers and each time I look around at the gorgeous, high-tech, central London, HUGE buildings we are in and I think, oh, oh yes, this is what they call ‘overheads’.

Surely someone is about to start up a light-weight, streamlined new type of publisher in their kitchen, with a brand new economic model:  offer books in as many digital formats as feasible, including print-on-demand, broker deals with the retailers who are pushing ereaders and print-on-demand technology, offer writers a risk/profit share in the takings, undercut all the mainstream publishers on the price of ebooks - and bingo, bob’s your uncle.  I know, I know, it isn’t easy - but why not try it?  When is a publisher going to stand up
and suggest that charging the same price for an ebook as a print book, and in many instances, MORE, is just plain highway robbery?  Readers and writers revolt!

Arvon

10 November 2008 | Comments (0)

Chris Meade from if:Book London and I will be teaching a week-long course on Writing and New Media at an Arvon centre next week.  Our guest will be my collaborator Chris Joseph. We are hoping to have decent connectivity while there, but if not, we’ll find ways to recreate the internet at Arvon, albeit on a smaller scale than the real thing!  My connectivity problems here in my new office are solved, but in the bodgiest way possible - a dongle booster wrapped in plastic hanging outside the window, with the hub placed in the most inconvenient place possible (with the exception of under my pillow, I guess) inside the house.  Anyway, I’m looking forward to getting to Lumb Bank - it is a most wonderful place, and even if it pours all week we will have a good time.

Being Offline

7 November 2008 | Comments (0)

I’m offline at lot more than usual these days for a variety of reasons, including the fact the wireless doesn’t reach my office yet.  That will (should) change on Monday when the engineer comes.  But I feel ambivalent about it - having an internet-free working space is such a novelty.  Somehow the office feels calmer and quieter without the internet…  I can look at the books I’ve decided to move into the office… my art books, my dictionaries… I can think about where to hang pictures, indeed, which pictures I want to hang.  I can stare at the big sky, and wonder when I’ll ever have time to sweep up the yellow leaves that are currently carpeting the ground.

A while back on Facebook I posted an update where I said I was tired of thinking and talking about the future of the book, that I was going to start thinking about the future of the boot instead.  That update drew amused and amusing comments from my FB friends.  I guess connectivity fatigue is something we all experience.

Yesterday I went to see the Mark Rothko exhibition at Tate Modern. His paintings are the only paintings I’ve ever seen that make me cry. They are so luminous and extraordinary it is almost too much to bear.

Donate here!

28 October 2008 | Comments (2)

A few weeks ago I read a great review in the LRB by Jenny Turner about Helen DeWitt and her self-published book ‘Your Name Here’.  Turner is a wonderful writer; her review of Douglas Coupland’s ‘Girlfriend in a Coma’ was a favourite review of mine (is that possible?  I don’t really have ‘favourite book reviews’!  In fact, most writing about books drives me crazy.) In her review Turner mentions that on her blog Helen De Witt asks readers who buy her books secondhand to make a donation to her in lieu of any royalties.  So of course I had to go see for myself.  Bought DeWitt’s previous novel, The Last Samurai, second-hand, and duly made my donation via the blog.  And have, of course, adapted (stolen?) DeWitt’s genius hilarious idea for my own website and this blog!  Please feel free to donate if you have ever bought any of my books secondhand!!  I can see the money rolling in already.  And am looking forward to reading DeWitt’s first novel, ‘The Last Samurai’.

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