Tag Archives: dead media

In reality, SXSW Interactive 2009 was a long drunken wake for the death of print


[Last of my notes from SXSW, these on the recurring theme of death of many media, but one we may particularly miss, the death of books and long form fiction]

The econoclipse has totally hastened the demise by digital soil erosion of the already shaky foundations of almost every old-media business model. And what’s crazy is how much the geeks lament this **even as they
are the very ones killing them*. It’s like OH WOE to old media STAB STAB STAB why are you dying? STAB STAB I’m so angry with you STAB STAB STAB for not having more foresight, and for selfishly dying and stuff.


“It seems a shame,” the Walrus said,
“To play them such a trick,
After we’ve brought them out so far,
And made them trot so quick!”
The Carpenter said nothing but
“The butter’s spread too thick!”

Bruce Sterling’s keynote was an absolutely spot-on Irish wake for books and fiction, complete with drinking and chips on stage.

“Look,” said Sterling, pulling out a stack of copies of his most recent novel, The Caryatids, and placing it on the lectern. “These are what we used to call books. I know that you’re sort of unused to seeing them. Let me explain to you how these devices work because I’m not sure a Web 2.0 crowd follows the structure anymore.

If there is a ray of light, the answer became more clear as to what publishers, and authors have to do to thrive. According to Bruce, and echoed by Chris Anderson and Guy Kawasaki’s conversation, it’s about being (to borrow from Hugh) a personal micro-brand not about being someone tied to just one medium “the book”.

This is generally a lot easier for authors than for publishers to get their head around. Though authors could benefit from the tools and representation to help them do that. Of course this model also works better for non-fiction, or authors who are talented at speaking or at blogging or consulting or punditry, or at being charismatic enough or having enough of a following to be paid to show up anywhere like at events, or to lend their recognition/respect/authorial-aura to other projects like Margaret Atwood might in Canada etc.

But the rub, how do you align the interests of the publisher with all of these other ways that the author will actually use to feed themselves?

It’s also clear this whole transition won’t work well for a lot of writers. “Writing+charisma” is a whole other bag of tricks than just being a “writer”. In the worst case, this would be like the transition from silent film to talkies. Talkies wiped out all but a handful of the previous stars. Movie stars still existed (if fact more of them) but for the most part they were stars at a different bag of tricks.

There’s another problem, how micro can your brand be to make a living. The very literary writers who may create works only loved or admired by much smaller peer group, or those writers who are good/great but only so long as you don’t let them be seen out of the house.

Of course we as a society could just fund some of these dead media directly. Thank goodness for charity and government grants (and the CBC).

We do it already, in all sectors of society. If there’s no easy way to charge people for incremental usage of some “public good” like streetlights or paved sidewalks but everyone somewhat agrees that it would nonetheless be nice to have these things in society, then you fund it with tax dollars.

The implication here, for literature, maybe for journalism, is that it we rethink it as “high art” as in those forms of media that no one actually expects to be an economical sort of industry or otherwise supported by the market. like ballet. Maybe we are in this world already?

What does that make General Motors then? are we now considering the making of GM cars a nationally protected art form?

link: Future May Be Brighter, but It’s Apocalypse Now

link: Bruce Sterling’s SXSW keynote partial transcript (It seems, sadly, there is no audio version or full transcript on any of the internet)

Trouble at the video store

I don’t think Michele will be taking me to the video store again. Just too much trouble. All stemming from incident a few weeks back. I hadn’t been to one in years, but an evening of unlikely desperation found us at the local blockbuster-esque corner video store. What surreal and bewildering experience. I recommend not visiting to a music or video store for 3-5 years then suddenly trying it again. Trippy.

One immediately strange thing you’ll notice is that some shelves would be taken up with 10 or twenty boxes containing the exact same movie. Meanwhile lots of other perfectly good movies that I seem to remember weren’t anywhere in the store at all. I don’t know why, but there didn’t seem to be any option to download or transfer in any of these movies from some central archive.

It was hard to choose a movie. First there was the limited selection problem, and then for some reason I wasn’t able to tell just from looking at the shelves if my friends had seen any of these movies, which ones they might recommend, get a tomatometer score, or even google-up some independent reviews of them. hmmm.

Finally though, after some deliberation, I pick one out. No you can’t rent that she tells me. Why not? It’s out. What do mean it’s out? Somebody else has it, the disc has left the store. I don’t understand. How can’t you understand? Well I have money and I want to rent this one, why can’t the guy at the front just burn me another copy? [big sigh] Tom, you know it doesn’t work that way.

Perfectly digital media stuck on individual spinning discs. What a crazy business model. How would you ever explain it to your grandkids?