Writing on the Ether | JaneFriedman.com

Janus: One hairy eye­ball on 2012. (iStock­photo / xochicalco)

By Porter Anderson | @Porter_Anderson


From Decem­ber 22, 2011
Part of my series of columns on pub­lish­ing, Writ­ing on the Ether, appear­ing Thurs­days at JaneFriedman.com

Flirting with foolishness

I don’t make predictions. Especially at this time of year. It lies before us, the future does. ‘Tis the reason: I just don’t know.

I think even less of “year in review” rolls in the heyday — columns, posts, StoryCorps-weepy workovers. Remember how we got lost in the Amazone after the opéra bouffe  “Ah, Borders” became no longer hummable? Dude, we were there. Keep your coals in your own Christmas stocking. We have onboard memories, you know. Who asked to be put through it all again? 2011 was a dog of a year. Let it lie.

Hold, instead, two developments in your mind as current motifs–two contextual overrides that didn’t “happen,” as the year-enders love to tell us, but that simply have become unavoidably apparent. As Rumi seems to have said all those centuries ago, they are “the here and now.”

  1. The Age of Amazon is upon us; and
  2. The Passion of the Author, an unholy Oberammergau, is curtain-up at last.

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Get past that unseemly business of the Amazon price-check app and the fact that your Kindle Fire needed its 6.2.1 update (thank you, Laura Hazard Owen). And stop backing the bookmobile over Farhad Manjoo for writing ill of independent bookstores. The pax Amazonia simply hovers more imposingly over the major cities of Earth than we expected it would. I’m going to offer you a thoroughly helpful article about that.

And even as the Big Sick publishers writhe under their new overlord, authorial authority raises its keyboard-imprinted head and starts speaking aloud. I’ll give you that one, too. It’s a PR director’s Badlands dream.

Now, the exception to most rules has weighed in: Don Linn in 2012: Revenge of the Plumbers observes, “Some very exciting things are said to be forthcoming (or at least hoped for) for the coming 12-24 months. Some may actually happen.”  But he goes on, rightly, to caution:

Let’s not forget that we’ll need lots of new systems, software, infrastructure and yes (in many cases) people to make these things work properly…the nerds, geeks and dirty-fingernail men and women who make things work behind the scenes so that the shiny new products and services the public sees work…They’ll be the heroes, even if largely unrecognized, this year. Publishers overlook them at their risk.

Sibyl from Sam Missingham's futurebook predictions parts 1 and 2And I’m also adding Sam Missingham‘s two-part compilation of many of our predictions (I phrased mine as Shatzkinian questions, see below). TheFutureBook’s 2012 publishing predictions part 1 and 2012 publishing predictions part 2 pull together so many leading voices that they really bear a few minutes of your time and thought.

Have a drink in hand. It’s going to be a bumpy year.

We’re told by Derek Thompson, boy editor at The Atlantic, that Last Year Had the Slowest U.S. Population Growth in 70 Years. Well, Derek. That’s because every American already born was at the National Kitchen Table writing her or his masterpiece. No time to do the other thing. And there’s no time to look back in queasiness, either.

This is why I’m grateful to have Mike Shatzkin rescue us all with the still small voice of sanity we need most to hear, as the odometer prepares its forward somersault. His new write is No predictions this year; just questions. Smart already, see? That’s why Mr. Mike floats highest on this week’s Ether.

Shatzkin tells us: “Any honest futurist (and I try to be one) has to admit that questions outnumber answers.” Maybe you need his decades in the business to get past fortunetelling fever and concede this. He did take a whack at it for Digital Book World, mind you, on two points: thumbs up for better digital royalties, but potentially thumbs down for some publishing workers amid reorganization.

Here, I’ll highlight a very few of the 2012 Shatzkinian quandaries, in hopes of steering you over to Idea Logical to see the others where they glisten on the branches of enviably evergreen experience.

  • The biggest publishers: Can their use of tech at scale — SEO and pricing seem like top candidates — add demonstrable value, cost-effective for them and persuasive to authors?
  • Independent bookstores: Will emphasizing the books-as-objects market (gifts and otherwise) work as the customers for narrative text find it less and less necessary to visit physical locations?
  • Authors: How do they know that their agent understands the new range of publishing options and directs their business activity accordingly? (It’s as hard to be effective as your own agent as it is to be your own lawyer.)
  • Agents: How do they make sure the full range of knowledge about the digital publishing alternatives is within their grasp? (if not in their head…)

And that, my hand-sold Ethernaut, is how to face a new year. With questions at the ready.

If you must search out the prognosticators, I’ll recommend the broadly based bevy of them writing for the Neiman Journalism Lab in its Predictions for Journalism 2012. They include Nicholas Carr going on about “appification,” deep in the Shallows of his Internet-diving success.

But for publishing? My money’s on the Shatzkin Protocol. Never mind the predictive prattle of pundits. Say “amen!” to the artful admission of “I don’t know,” sisters and brothers. Then go forth in good faith, with hope in your heart. And a fine brandy in your  eggnog.

Click to read this week’s full Writ­ing on the Ether col­umn at JaneFriedman.com

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