Free Labour and Free Stuff

The Future of Publishing

Loren March, staff writer


Picture this: The year is 2020. You get home from work and decide to kick back on the couch with what was once called a “book.” After you turn your “book” on to “read” it, the possibilities multiply. Your iTunes syncs a playlist as a score to the story. Your Facebook profile information is automatically shared to see which of the main characters are your best romantic matches. The page is interactive. The story becomes a choose-your-own-adventure film reel projected on the backs of your eyelids.

The future of print is becoming a strange realm of possibilities, and as digital slowly assumes supremacy, the possibilities are only multiplying as innovators push to keep the classic printed word afloat. But as creative as many of these ideas are, a lot of writers aren’t able to jump on board quite yet and are left struggling in the wake. Between unpaid internships, volunteer positions, short-term contracts, and the DIY world of the Internet, is the traditional print industry these days just one big race to the bottom?

A staggering 98 UK publishers folded last year. Tribune Co. – owners of the Chicago Tribune, the LA Times, and six other daily newspapers – cut nearly 700 jobs at the end of 2013, instead planning to focus on the digital growth of their company. La Gesca Ltd. – owners of the Montreal newspaper La Press – just paid $31 million to Transcontinental Inc. to be able to reduce and have flexibility about the consistency of future printing of the paper. Hell, even the almighty Oxford English Dictionary has gone digital. But not everyone is panicking like the big players.

Slow publishing is making a huge comeback in the face of new industry superpowers like Amazon. Other small publishers and writers seem to be shrugging off the old conservative grip of the industry, taking advantage of the frenzy to diversify and imagine new possibilities.

How do you innovate books? You’ve probably heard of blogs and ebooks, right? But do you know what a textual mix tape is?

A Canadian company called BookRiff has handed the reigns to the consumer, allowing readers to “curate” reading material into their own compilations. Have you ever heard of Pressbooks? Their online website generates DIY ebooks, PDFs, and webbooks in an easy four-step process. The publishers at Iambik partner up with authors and publishers around the globe to make audiobooks out of “great books that have been overlooked.” They are connected to the fine folks at LibriVox who are working with audiobooks that are – get this – totally free.

The amount of public domain reading material online these days is almost overwhelming. Online websites like Gutenberg.org, the Oxford Text Archive, The PDA Librarian, and Mslit.com, provide vast collections of PDF and DOC files that are often formatted for mobile readers. There has been a long and hard-fought campaign to make this sort of information accessible to the public – especially academic articles. Maybe you’ve heard of Aaron Swartz, the computer programming guru and activist who was instrumental in creating the Internet Archives’ Open Library, Creative Commons, and Reddit. He passed away last year, but the campaign for free information and unrestricted access continues.

But is it all roses? What does all this free stuff mean for writers trying to make a dime?

When it comes to getting your work out there, Montreal-based writer Jon Paul Fiorentino maybe puts it best: “I think it’s easier to be published, and harder to be published well.”

This seems like a pretty good assessment.

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