But I wanted to link to this piece from Editor & Publisher, a publication that I find does a great job covering journalism issues in an accessible and very straight-forward way. The article is about a conference at the Columbia University j-school on the future of newspapers.
The quote I found particularly intriguing was about the ideas of American Prospect co-founder Robert Kuttner. As the article states:
Kuttner said that, by and large, the best journalism on the Web came from online versions of print publications because they had already had a "critical mass" of reporters and editors and a sense of accountability that the public has come to trust.
Exactly! Now this I can work with.
Kuttner is speaking as a co-founder and editor of a now-established publication, admittedly, just as I am speaking as an employed editor, earning (a piddly) income from an established source of writing. Point being, we ain't hardly objective.
All the same, I like the idea of hybrid models and think this is a more realistic future. I'm all for digital technology being pursued for writing, but I still believe we need gatekeepers to negotiate that writing, so uphold a standard. As a reader, I want to read something that someone else has recommended, whether it is overt such as a great staff rec in an independent bookstore or inherent as when a publisher I like deems something worth publishing. I know Anton Mueller can acquire some fantastic, smart trade non-fiction books for Houghton, so I'm confident, if I were to see his name in the Acknowledgments, that the book is probably worth reading, is probably well done. If a book were online but published in some sense by a publisher I like - Suspect Thoughts, Soft Skull, McSweeneys (though I'm not good with their books, I just always like the idea of them) - I would give it a try.
I suppose this more realistically and immediately suggests, in terms of publishing, more content available online, but not necessarily whole books.
Publishers are going to have to devote staff to an online identity. I'm seeing that where I work, and I'm seeing the forces resisting it in ways. If I were a publisher - ah, that day will come my friends - I would not worry to much about a presence on myspace and Second Life, per se, but rather hire someone as an online marketing person, to keep up with blogs, to blog for the house, and to work on finding reasonable, non-shady ways to create viral marketing campaigns.
And on the editing end, I would suggest making content available online to some degree. It could be smart to have interested readers send an email to get a forthcoming book by serial for awhile. This would get them invested, deliver the book in digestible chunks to them personally, and possibly get them excited about the book's publication.
But hey, I'm no publisher. I like what some publishers have done online, including the Overlook Press. Their blog, the Winged Elephant, is a good start, and a model for what I think our house needs to do (but thus far, has not). I know this is connecting to the web, in the larger sense of the word, but it's still not making the philosophical jump to seeing books as mere venues for conversations with links throughout. Sorry kids, I'm still not there.