What is the most exciting thing in publishing today?

This weekend I was thinking about the recent history of publishing content: What are the innovations and trends of the past? What is in the near future?

Let me give you a few examples of the kinds of things I am thinking about:

  • blogs
  • microblogs vs tumblr vs twitter
  • social
  • interest-based blog networks like Medium
  • Podcasts become popular (again)
  • recent trend in newsletters, especially paid ones
  • fediverse platforms like Mastadon
  • old skool Indie ‘zines
  • Cellphone novels
  • Kindle singles and other self-published eBooks
  • more novellas coming out in recent years
  • Wattpad

This is not an exhaustive list of publishing tools/models (if you have more please add them in the comments!).

These platforms go in-an-out of fashion. One reason is when a certain platform starts getting eyeballs, professional orgs come in and start crowding out indie voices (I really saw this both in blogging and podcasting). It is a kind of gentrification. We saw this with blogs and podcasts. I wish I could find the original quote, but I think of it as a dictum:

Everyone has a voice on the internet, but that doesn’t mean they will be heard.

Unknown

Network effects, especially driven by the big social media platform(s), means that content distribution is really bumpy.

On the opposite end, you get the “Yogi Berra effect.” You know:

Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.

Yogi Berra

So there is churn in online publishing, even if it is cyclical. Benedict Evans said in his most recent newsletter:

New internet distribution models work like slash-and-burn agriculture: OK for year or two and then it’s time to move on.

There is tons of content online, and if you want to contribute, which distribution channels should you use? How not to get buried?

Ben Evans points out:

… the average FB user feed has 1,500+ items a day – once you’ve followed everyone interesting you’ll never see what they post, and you’ve mixed your friends and your interests, and the algorithm hides what it will.

(This is a question I have been asking for a while, as I think about how to share all the photographing, filming, and writing about Japan I have been doing returning here 4 months ago).

In the early 2000s the blog was the tool, and RSS was the network that bound everyone together. RSS lost out to social media as the network, and in many cases social became the publishing tool (think of how many people just use Insta instead of a blog). You can write alone on the web on your blog forever and not be discovered because you have no distribution into/via the network. If you are trying to start up a new project, figuring out how to crack the nut of distribution and get effective reach is key. These are old problems, but they stay evergreen due to the musical chairs of publishing/distribution tools+networks mentioned above.

Looking at the problem at its most simplistic, there are two axes of differentiation:

  1. Content: you have unique ideas/perspective/experiences/skill
  2. Medium: you express your ideas/perspective/experiences/skill in a unique medium

Sounds like a “style vs substance” or “form over function.” — I told you it was simplistic! — but it got me thinking about publishing mediums in general.

I have been writing on this blog for 10 years, and have been blogging for nearly 20, and I came to it 10 years late! Blogging is a very mature medium and although the tools might improve, I think it is still a pretty recognizable form after all this time — like the novel or poetry.

Every day I am now using Roam as I work on my zettelkasten. Last year I was inspired by Andy Matuschak’s essay on transformative tools for thought. These are new ways to write==think. Andy’s published notes site is a very interesting way of putting that thinking online (I recommend clicking around and exploring it). I have been following Evgeny Morozov’s The Syllabus since the beginning (see this interview with De Correspondent to get what it is all about). Then there are things like Craig Mod’s companion site for his book Koya Bound. That’s just classic, cool webdesign.

These are certainly cool tools providing novel ways to interact with ideas/perspective/experiences/skill. But they don’t have the best thing that blogs had back in the day: community. I want to engage in a back-and-forth, to learn new ideas and improve my own. That was the best part of blogging in the early 2000s: meeting cool people online, and then meeting them in real life! I want to capture that feeling of blogging 20 years years, which had little to do with technology, and everything to do with the community.

In thinking about this, and looking to be inspired, I am on the hunt for innovative publications, magazines, blogs, etc that are firing people up: getting them engaged with more than just hitting a Like button. If you have any you want to share or plug, post below!

 
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