Spying Around: Check me out on the Chestertown Spy local news webiste

As the new year gets ready to roll in, there are several new projects I’ll be working on.  Some I have mentioned, some I have yet to mention and some that I will reveal as they progress.  One such project is my involvement with The Chestertown Spy.  The Spy is a hyperlocal news and information website revolving around the Chestertown, MD area, where I now happen to live.  I’ll be making regular contributions to the site, as well as something new that I’m very excited about and will let you know more as it happens.  My first post for the Spy appeared earlier today, a short little business piece about WCTR Radion in Chestertown changing its format from music and talk to an all-talk station.

During my interview with station manager Ken Collins, I found that there are some parallels between the shift at WCTR and the shift that’s going on within the publishing community.  Namely, tried and true formats that once held so much success have begun losing their relevance in today’s web and technology driven world.  WCTR is shifting to a talk format in response to this, in a way that tries to give listeners something they don’t get anywhere else, news and information directly from the horse’s mouth, as it were, that the audience needs to know.  Publishing is in a similar conundrum.  Where once upon a time, the local newspaper held that role for the community almost solely, they have become not the lone voice at the head of the stage, but one voice among many.  And the problem with that is their voice is primarily in print where so many people today are “listening” through web browsers, cell phones and other mobile devices.

The emergence of web-based equivalents to the platforms formerly held by standard media has simply exploded in the past decade, and is continuing to do so at an exponential rate.  In truth, the decline of print has led to many, many trained people loose out there with the skills to do the job and new technological tools with which to do it at minimal, if any, costs.  I’m exploring these avenues with my upcoming work with the Spy, and other things.  It’s a scary time to be in publishing; the insecurity over money is probably at an all-time high for those working in the industry.  But it’s also extremely exciting.  There are possibilities that simply didn’t exist even just a few years ago, and the ability to reach and interact with a sizable audience has never been easier or more direct.

I’ve written quite a bit about the transitions that publishing in currently undergoing.  Like many industries, fundamental change on this kind of level is never easy, but once it begins, there’s no going back.  And, personally, I intend to be one of the people riding the waves into the new and different future, be it online or in print, rather than one of the folks trying to hold on to yesterday’s paycheck watching things around me shrivel away.  I mean, who wouldn’t?

Published in: on December 28, 2010 at 12:58 pm  Comments (2)  
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This is the End…of 2010. For Legacy Publishers, Paywalls have failed (again) and iPad apps haven’t met the hype.

So, lately I’ve been catching up with the state of the publishing industry. I’m currently working on a couple projects that will be appearing shortly after the first of the year. What have I found in the six months or so I’ve been out of the loop? Well, the more things change, the more they stay the same. There has been a nice little boost in advertising revenues in the past few months, unless you’re a newspaper, of course. Newspapers are still circling the drain and are about the only type of media not rebounding at the moment. There are numerous reasons for this, the most obvious being that general interest newspapers are an anachronism.

Many places have tried paywalls (2010 was billed as the year of the paywall, after all, rather predictably to virtually no success). The new era of paywalls are ending up much like the previous attempts: that is, they cut readership by over 90%, decimate online ad revenues and what readership numbers they do produce are largely from print subscribers who get free online access. My favorite whipping boy, Rupert Murdoch, has most famously tried this with his major titles and it has been, thus far, an abject failure. Then there’s the iPad. Since its debut in the Spring of this year, publishers have been falling all over themselves to create apps for the device. Unfortunately, those very same apps have had the unintended but again, imminently predictable, consequence of further eroding print readership and revenue while producing relative peanuts in return.

So here is Murdoch again with his own “innovative” iPad app, a daily paper that debuts once a day with no social interaction, little or no incoming or outgoing web links and, at most, one minor update or so. In other words, he’s replicating the static newspaper while almost totally ignoring the realities of the online world. Yeah, that one’s gonna work out. At this point, I’ve been closely following the “transition” of print media online for two years now, and it seems as if almost no one from the old guard has learned anything at all in that time. Meanwhile, the technology keeps improving and the costs of entry into the market keep falling (unless, of course, you’re a legacy company who thinks it’s a good idea to dump $30 million on an app that undermines your core business and doesn’t really include any kind of innovation or anything even remotely useful to savvy internet residents).

Of course, that may be the point. Lock people behind a wall and don’t let them get out. I’ve been an Apple fan for a long time, but Steve Jobs hooking up with Murdoch on this is massively disappointing. Of course, in my opinion, Apple has been losing a lot of its luster over the past few years as its stream of products have gotten more and more successful, from the iPod to the iPhone to the iPad. Their computers are still the best thing going, but the peripheral stuff is getting a bit tiresome, as well as Apple’s increasingly draconian control mechanisms. Traditional publishers have been trying to lock people in since the internet first exploded on the scene. You’d think, at some point, it might actually sink in that you can’t lock people down in this way anymore because they don’t want to be locked down, and they sure as hell aren’t going to pay you for limiting their options.

So the year of the paywall has largely been a bust. The first nine months of the iPad’s saving the day for publishers has also been largely a bust. Where do they go from here? Out of business. I’m left with much the same opinion I’ve had all along here; the future of publishing does not rest with the legacy companies and those who have been inextricably indoctrinated in a print-first-last-and-always mentality. Much like any disruptive force in any industry since the dawn of industry itself, the future will be led by outsiders. They will find success in ways that the establishment would never have dreamed of, take their rightful places as the next generation of leaders of the industry, then get shunted aside years later as a newer generation with newer ideas once unthinkable to even the disrupters of old come along. It’s all about the cycle of life.

As things (hopefully) improve economically, the new and innovative ones will further take the top rungs of media success. By this time next year, the last of the old guard media may well be resigned to the tiny little nostalgic niche left to them and their loyalists. The Mayans may have been partially right after all; 2012 may not be the end of civilization, but it is quite possibly shaping up to be the end of old media. RIP. And don’t let casket door hit you in the ass on the way down.

Published in: on December 19, 2010 at 10:15 am  Leave a Comment  
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Just In Time For Christmas! A relaunch of my book

So the past month has been pretty hectic, trying to to scrounge up some work for the upcoming year and get some things together that I’ve had on the back burner for a while. There are two things, in particular, that I’ve spent a lot of time on. One is my new photo archive, Watershed Images. Click on the link here or the photo link on the sidebar to see what that’s all about. I’ll do a little write up here specifically for it later, but for now, it’s out there and ready for visitors. Secondly, and more exciting, if you notice, there’s a new link on the sidebar here to my book. While I was very proud of its original incarnation, there were a few things I wasn’t satisfied with. The big one was the title, and that’s a long story in and of itself.

Literally for years, I had this collection of short stories kept under a title I really liked, Tales of Ordinary Madness. Unfortunately, just as I was preparing to publish, I discovered this old German writer who already released a book of short stories called, you guessed it, Tales of Ordinary Madness. (There’s a movie by that same name as well, but that’s a different kettle of fish.) Needless to say, I was annoyed at that discovery. I thought and thought, and couldn’t come up with a suitable replacement, so I played with the wording a bit and released the book under the title Legends of Everyday Lunacy. Never much cared for it, honestly, so step one in reworking my book was finding a suitable title that I actually liked.

After many hours of self-debate, I finally settled on one; Bad Timing. Now, this isn’t a specific reference to any story (s) in the book, but it’s a general catch-all phrase that I think fits the tone very well. In the past few years, the phrase bad timing has some very specific meaning for me. Due to certain things, that phrase truly resonates with me. If nothing else, I’ve learned exactly how important it is, and how much your life can change if your timing is bad. They’re not particularly fond memories, but they are important and part of what makes me who I am. This title fits almost perfectly, I think. That, and the fact that I got to flex my Photoshop muscles in creating a warped and twisted clock image for the book’s cover. That’s just cool; very Outer Limits or Twilight Zone.

The other important changes are mostly style ones. I added five new stories to this version that weren’t in the original, stories that I left out initially, and regretted all the way. Now they’re back in, and the collection seems more complete. The book itself is printed on cream color paper as opposed to the bright white of the original, which just makes it look classier, I think, not to mention easier on the eyes of the reader. I also tweaked some things like the inner margins to keep the text better centered on the pages, and published this version under the imprint Watershed Publications. In the future, I most definitely will be using the Watershed Publications name to produce all sorts of interesting stuff. Keep watching.

And best of all, the distribution channels for the book are much better than the previous publisher, giving the new and improved book new and improved access to more possible buyers. Also, as we speak, I’m in the process of formating and creating versions for both the Apple iPad, which will be available through the iBook store, and for the Kindle reader, which will be available at Amazon.com. Nothing like multiple channels to get to where the readers are. I’ll provide links and keep everyone abreast of when they make their debut. I may even toss in an extra story or two for the digital editions, just to make them unique, especially considering that I don’t have to pay up for printing extra pages in an electronic format.

Anyway, here are a few links to find where it’s available. The most common is this one, its Amazon listing. Also, here is another link to an online storefront where you can buy a copy. On this one, by the way, I make a little more in royalties than through Amazon. And, in keeping with the new social nature of everything on the web, here is a link to the newly-created Facebook page for Watershed Publications, currently featuring links and info about the book’s new release. Like I said, there will be more forthcoming somewhere down the line, but for now, it’s a start.

Christmas is a great time to give the gift of reading to the people’s on your shopping list. Failing that, get ’em a gift card and a recommendation. The after Christmas shopping season is a great time to buy some books, too (insert shameless plug here). Have a great holiday season, and thanks for reading.

Published in: on December 6, 2010 at 10:32 am  Leave a Comment  
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