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!

7 thoughts on “What is the most exciting thing in publishing today?

  1. I too am interested in what you’ll find, and will be keeping track of the comments section. What innovative blogs do you currently browse a lot? I don’t actually go directly to blogs unless reading them through the Reader, so I don’t have much to recommend you, but am curious as to what’s out there that I’m missing. Thanks for sharing this, Chad!

    Like

    1. Thanks for the reply Stuart! I agree, I mostly read content through my RSS reader. Guess I am old school that way!

      Content discovery for me happens mostly through Twitter. I still find lots of intellectually engaging content on traditional sites like Literary Review of Canada, New Yorker, Aeon, and stuff like that… but no community.

      You write a ton, and also get lots of interaction! What’s your secret?

      Like

      1. I just follow the BITHOK rule: Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard, every day, no exceptions. That’s for output.

        For interaction, you already nailed it in your post, which is engaging with the community. I find that reading other people’s work and commenting is the sole reason for most of my engagement.

        I used to only write, and that alone didn’t even get me 10% of what commenting and liking did. It has to be sincere though. Mass-liking can work, but it really doesn’t help you with forming real connections.

        Hope this helps!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Also, see this recent post by someone who was in the community way back in the early 2000s:

    https://scholars-stage.blogspot.com/2020/07/the-world-that-twitter-made.html

    No blog was island—or if an island, each was part of an archipelago, a constellation of commentators interested in a specific topic or problem. Perhaps you cared a great deal about the Iraq War, or peak oil, or New Atheism. You would find people blogging about it, read their posts, write your own posts in response to what they were typing, and try to leave incisive comments in the threads attached to posts you liked. If you were leaving quality comments and writing up quality posts eventually members of your chosen section of the blogosphere would click on your name, explore what you had been writing, and start linking to it and writing responses to it themselves.

    Like

  3. This also gets at a similar thing:

    http://neojaponisme.com/2020/04/16/the-second-manifesto-of-neojaponisme/

    We started Néojaponisme in 2007 — a year that carried all the promise of the Internet as a hallowed bastion for reasonable, intelligent people who liked to exchange reasonable, intelligent comments underneath long-form essays about serious topics. Little did we know at the time, 2007 was the last year someone could harbor such misconceptions about the nature of the Internet.

    More than a decade later, the Internet is a very different place, and at some point this affected how we thought about Néojaponisme as a website.

    Read the whole thing. They ended up making a magazine! Which I bought!

    Like

  4. Also, this is not what I am talking about:

    Although things like the SlateStarCodex debacle and Taylor Lorenz stuff had an influence in me thinking about “alternative media” I am not saying we need our own siloed community or our own news. I am wondering if there is such a thing as the “blogs of the 2020s.” Something to experiment with. But the more I look, the more I think we should be doubling down on blogs and RSS.

    I realize this is not that well-defined. I haven’t clearly stated the problem, and am now undermining everything by questioning my premise.

    Thinking out loud…

    Like

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