In preparation for the Spring Seminar The Publishing Revolution: Ride the Wave!, Field's End Core Team member Barbara Clarke interviewed Jason on more of his thoughts about issues that will be addressed during the 2013 Spring Seminar April 27th as Islandwood, Bainbridge Island.
Field's End Question (Q): Could you respond to the following quote from novelist Anne Enright on the impact of digital publishing on writers? "The glee with which the digital providers ignore questions of content and quality, the way they see writers as fodder, is terrifying. Their stated aim is to pay writers as little as possible. They see a future of disposable talent, of business-savvy typists and amateurs, and they are busy bringing that future about."
Jason Allen Ashlock (JAA): The digital revolution across all forms of media has had two dramatic effects that are both encouraging and troubling in equal measure.
Q: Because you teach classes on digital publishing at City University of New York -- City College what are a few of the most common questions or concerns your students ask? And what do you tell them?
JAA: By far the biggest question is something along the lines of, Is there a future for those who love books and want to write them and work with them? And my answer is a confident and resounding yes! But the discrete jobs that have been clearly defined for years are not likely to be the same ones available in the future. Just as the roles and responsibilities of the artist have shifted and expanded in the new publishing economy, so have the responsibilities of those of us who see it as our calling to make public stories that matter.
Q: While our Seminar is about the digital age and publishing, could you address the traditional role of agents and publishers? How is this changing?
JAA: Most observers would agree that the digital revolution has threatened some of the core efficiencies and skill sets of traditional publishers--suddenly publishing doesn't require infrastructure, capital or legacy relationships the way it once did. But while I often hear it said that the digital revolution makes anyone into a publisher, and of course to some extent this is true, in another way, it's not true at all.
While new technologies allow any of us to build beautiful books and get them into retail channels or into content streams on the Web, publishing well is more than pressing buttons. And the truth is that the urge to be a publisher is not something that's spread evenly across the population. Some tasks are not done best as fragmented, independent units, but as aggregate wholes, and I think publishing is one of those things. So while publishers are forced to reconsider some of the fundamental economics of what they do, I think we are also seeing them really begin to surface some virtues that we've forgotten: curation, passion, quality.
When book publishing is all about building physical containers, publishers can easily be seen--even by themselves--as builders of widgets. Digital disruption has forced all of us to get to the bottom of what it means to be a publisher and to do that job well. For agents, the same set of questions is used to interrogate our role, too--what value do we bring. I trumpet radical mediation so much--the idea that agents can't just see themselves as selling content to big media companies, but as building great stories from the bottom up and finding the right partners to introduce those stories to their audiences--because I think it is a better way of formulating our virtues too.
Q: What is a platform, is it important, does it depend on the genre or format you want to publish in, and is it also changing?
JAA: We use the term platform in two ways these days:
Q: At the Seminar will you briefly address the changes in publishing contracts, rights, etc, recommend sources such as PEN, and why attendees need to be up-to-date?
JAA: Yes, all of that and more. The digital revolution creates so much opportunity and so many options that it can often freeze writers into inaction. One of our main goals at the Seminar will be to orient ourselves to the landscape, to map it in a way, so we know which paths are most wise. That map will introduce major players, suggest possible team members, as well as address new sets of questions that authors must ask and answer.
Q: What could an attendee at the Seminar write in their Evaluation that would make you feel that the day was successful?
JAA: I think the aim of a day like this is for all of us to walk away feeling like we've named the challenges of the digital age, identified strategies for addressing those challenges, and in so doing have transformed those challenges into opportunities. From disorientation to inspiration--that's the goal. I think each attendee will walk away feeling like, suddenly, everything seems possible.
Jason Allen Ashlock is the Co-founder and President of Movable Type Management (MTM), an author/content management firm. At MTM he oversees the development of new books and digital properties by the company's more than 200 authors and global media clients and leads the firm's partnerships with an array of digital developers and marketing specialists. He sits on the advisory board of numerous technology startups focusing on the publishing industry, and has held consulting positions at leading media companies venturing into digital publishing. He teaches digital publishing at the City University of New York - City College.
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