It’s a Brand New Blog.
Since I last regularly blogged (I ran a blog titled “Gillian’s Heart” which went kaput about a year back), I’ve started up more projects than my brain can handle. At first, these projects took up all my time, more than allowed for blogging, definitely. But now, I’m actually feeling stressed NOT to wax diarrheal on the internet about everything I’m working on. Most notably because they all entail reaching out and realistically reaching an audience, or a consumer group, or something like that.
Check out my About page for the basic gist, but I’m now the Deputy Director and co-founder of my own small start-up – Robot Comics – which has the inauspicious pleasure of being the world’s first all-mobile comic book publisher. Not a self-publisher, and not a terribly small publisher, either (we release two-three books per week), and definitely not a distributor though we have skirted that line due to circumstances. By which I refer to there not being any comics material available save for the adaptable kind. Though that’s changing.
Which brings me to one of the topmost things on my mind of late: publishing comics in the digital era. Sure, publishers are taking the hint and getting on board with digital distributors and content partners. They’re also doing what publishers normally do and resolutely refusing to be experimental, daring, quick-thinking, or risk-taking. But there’s no doubt that comics are making the transition.
Yet if there’s one niggling (or is it major?) concern I have with this, it’s that the print publishing industry is simply sidling over, at their own sweet pace, to asphyxiate the digital industry with all the same inbred, self-destructive practices that have made such a cock-up of the print world in the first place. A closed environment with no obvious submission process or venue for new talent? Check. Technology customized for print material rather than digital material which cheapens the digital environment to a glorified novelty? Check. Content partners that already have a stranglehold on the marketplaces and practice willy-nilly censorship and Orwellian strongarm tactics? Are we really this desperate?
I’d like to believe we’ve come a long way with capitalism since the early 20th century, but it seems every new market must experience these specific kind of growing pains. And this is the most un-biased evidence of a very biased opinion of mine: the digital publishing industry is a new industry, not a new venue for an old one.
What we are witnessing, right now, with apps like ComiXology, Panelfly, and iVerse Media, are akin to what DC Comics’ ex-head-honcho Paul Levitz said way back in 2008:
I don’t think they’re separate streams in the sense that they don’t meet…. I think we’re at the point in the digital world that television was at in 1950, when they took radio shows and made them into television shows in a literal fashion. You got things like [radio and later TV show] Fibber McGee and Molly, where all of a sudden you could see what the sound effects had done, or the early Superman [TV] stuff, where the expectations were still low enough that if George Reeves was jumping out of a window on a glorified trampoline, that was a special effect and that was cool. But TV doesn’t really “work” by that argument until you get a few years later and somebody says, “Let’s mix burlesque in with radio.” And suddenly you have I Love Lucy, and you have physical comedy. And the situation comedy is born, which becomes one of the dominant forms of TV for the next four or five decades.
Which is fine and good, and certainly it’s fun reading print comics on all these nifty new gadgets. No one should be worried that innovation – true innovation – won’t eventually kick in. It will. But we’re in danger of missing a different boat should we kick back and let things take their course. Right now, we have a brand new publishing channel, arguably an entirely new industry disguised as a new venue for an old entrenched and walled-off one. If digital is truly a “new industry”, we have the chance to establish new companies, new authors, new mediums, new talents, new experiences, and new and (hopefully) better practices in managing them.
We’re at a crossroads and we have a choice: support the old way or the new way. The new way will not crush the old, or replace it entirely, but it will allow for a great deal of publishing practice reform. Technology has the ability to free us from certain constraints: we don’t have to have our entertainment controlled by the same companies that have been controlling it for the past quarter of a century. We don’t have to wait for them to tell us what’s worth reading, watching, and paying money for. We certainly don’t need them to tell us what’s offensive and appropriate, and even if they don’t come out and say this directly we don’t need them acting as gatekeepers. Culture has long been moving in the non-gatekeeper direction: fewer and fewer restrictions on what’s available, on what we can (gasp!) expose ourselves to. Digital offers the chance to tear down the last, most stubborn blockades in regards to this. But not if we only buy movie tie-ins from Apple and spandex books from the Marvel app on the iPad.
There’s about two dozen much longer arguments buried in this post, but for now, to kick my new blog off, I’ll leave it at this. I’m hoping for a lot from the digital publishing movement. A lot a lot a lot. I came across this article on Canada’s publishing history which had this gem of a quote:
Canada’s book industry has been shaped by importation, the agency system, and globalization.
Match “importation” with the lack of original digital material (it’s all being imported from the print market) and that’s an amazingly exact match-up for the current digital market. Very few are bothering to establish their own line of digital product. Low and behold, we’re now getting it through the agency model. Globalization, for all it’s non-newness in 2010, is something that’s nearly too much for most publishers to consider quite yet regarding digital, but it will eventually change the landscape yet again, when a way to approach it with true iron-fisted control is figured in full.
The big point, however, is simply this: why wait? Way wait for the same tired old stock-holder companies to wield control of the digital landscape? There’s no reason, really. Publishers, or would-be publishers: get your act together and move on this. Authors: start looking around and find digital innovators that can prep your career for the digital age, minus the raw deal traditional publishers have been lavishing on their employees and talent pool for decades. Marketplaces (I’m talking to you, Google, Apple, Amazon, B&N, Sony, Kobo, and others): consider how much more you’ll get from featuring and supporting exclusively digital publishers or at least dedicated digital publishers instead of Macmillan. Sure, you can’t shove Macmillan out the door yet, but in the long run, who might do your image, presence, and future output the most good? Might it be best to consider getting behind a few currently small-ish but potentially trailblazing digital publishers right now? Not only would an exclusively digital publisher want to please you more than a print publisher believes they should, but they’ll potentially bring more and better content, and serve your customers rather than simply shovel them lazily adapted fodder.
The digital publishing world is so full of potential I want to cry. Everything that smacks of trying to save practices that only began due to the horrid pre-digital circumstances of a mind-numbingly complex print industry make me furious. Literally furious. I’m hoping for a huge explosion in creativity to emerge soon. Creative works, creative management, creative marketing, creative everything.
Let’s get to it. I’m going to get back to it, in fact, right now.