Friday, September 17, 2010

Wave of Change? Or Sunami?

My head is spinning!

I’m currently involved in producing a movie for DVD release. No, I’m not bragging. It’s still in the financing phase, so it could all just go bye-bye any moment … kind of like Bear Sterns or Lehman Brothers … anyway, my point is that this movie I’m doing is also going to be put up as a webseries. I’m telling you all this because the education I am getting and the slap-upside-my-head experience of researching how webseries need to be “put up” and the wild west nature of this whole process has my head spinning.

In all the spinning, however, I’ve gotten glimpses of a wave of change that is sweeping over the Internet effecting writers of every stripe. This blog entry cannot possibly address all that could or should be said about this. But, hopefully this will generate some dialogue about the topics I’m going to discuss and through this discussion perhaps we will all get a better grasp of what is quickly turning from wave into a sumani.

First off, who is at risk? Yes, I use the word “risk” intentionally. Everyone who writes in formats considered “old media” are at risk. This list includes: novelists, poets, short story writers, playwrights, screenwriters, journalists, academicians, and anyone else who has something to say in the written word (bloggers excluded). Now don’t panic, books are not going anywhere, or films/TV, or short story collections, etc. The risk part has to do with missing out on all the new formats and distribution channels developing to get your work into the “hands” of potential readers. What are these new and risky avenues? Here is a short list, and I’m excluding all the “old,” boring platforms like e-books (soooo 20th Century!):

(Blurbs courtesy of Wikipedia)

: A webisode is an episode of a television show that airs initially as an Internet download or stream as opposed to first airing on broadcast or cable television. A webisode is simply a web episode —collectively it is part of a web series, which features a dramatic, serial storyline, where the primary method of viewership is streaming online over the Internet.

: Mobisode is a term for a broadcast television episode specially made for viewing on a mobile telephone screen and usually of short duration (from one to three minutes).

Cell Phone Novels
: See my July 13, 2008 entry on this. Cell phone or mobile phone novels are meant to be read in 1,000 to 2,000-word (in China) or 70-word (in Japan) chapters via text message on mobile phones. They are downloaded in short installments and run on handsets as Java-based applications on a mobile phone. Cell phone novels often appear in three different formats: WMLD, JAVA and TXT.

: A podcast is a series of audio or video digital-media files which is distributed over the Internet by syndicated download, through Web feeds, to portable media players and personal computers.

: A digital mashup is a digital media file containing any or all of text, graphics, audio, video and animation drawn from pre-existing sources, to create a new derivative work.

: A specific form of mashup. These are serialized novels or short stories in podcast format, which mix mixed media, narrative, audio, and anything else the writer can squeeze into it. These are very akin to the old radio dramas of the 1930s. (Amazingly there is no Wiki entry on this yet)

Net-Native Narratives
: Also, no Wiki entry for this yet. This is very new stuff. This is a form of storytelling that marries traditional narratives with gaming ARG (Alternate Reality Game) environments to create an interactive, immersive narrative experience. Imagine Moby Dick as an interactive, ARG experience. Ok, maybe not the best choice, but how about Dracula?

A writer can certainly choose to ignore all of these tempting tidbits and simply churn out traditional hard copy. This does not make you a Luddite (look it up if you don’t know the term). The John Updikes and the Amy Tans of the literary world will still wow us with their prose and enchant us with great storytelling. But, the Stephen Kings, Dean Koontzes, and Robin Cooks of the world will write their books AND are putting up webisodes and podiobooks and expanding their readership exponentially, attracting readers/viewers they would have missed entirely if they had just relied on pure hard copy and the marketing might of their publishers.

The other empowering aspect of all these tempting tidbits is that authors are now becoming more empowered to take control of how their work is disseminated and this can only be a good thing. For a writer to remain solely at the beck-and-call of their publisher for exposure and distribution is completely unnecessary with all these new technologies. Publishers are pulling back on support for their authors anyway, so now writers are much more capable of taking the reigns of their promotion and distribution into their own hands. Missing this opportunity is one of the main things writers risk by ignoring all these new developments.

Now, it doesn’t mean you have to go back to school and get a degree in Artificial Intelligence for M.I.T. There are lots of companies, services, and consultants out there now to help you develop your work into these new formats—yes, for a price. But, freedom doesn’t come cheap. Nor should it.

Okay. If your head is spinning, join the club. I’m going to leave it at this. Potential, possibility, and opportunity: these are the watchwords for the future. Welcome to a brave new world. Big Brother is watching, but the good news is he’s paying for the privilege through service fees, website memberships, and pay-per-click advertising dollars. Spin, spin, spin.

More on this to come. I have to go lie down.


Jeff Bach said...

To me, the killer thing about this change is that the content creator is chasing eyeballs into many many more spaces than before. In the old days of the letter networks, for example, ABC, NBC, and CBS captured just about everyone who had eyes and a TV. Not only were the networks monopolistic gatekeepers, but they were aggregators, the likes of which we will never see again! Old media had the luxury of only having to sweat to get content into VERY FEW places and then their work was done. They had "captured" nearly everyone.

Today, by contrast, and in regards to all these new media methods of publishing, the content creator must now exert tremendous effort to get their content into all sorts of places. The effort that must go into aggregation of eyeballs has absolutely skyrocketed. Moreover, this effort now more than ever, requires intense creator involvement as the publisher is increasingly unwilling to fund or participate in this new media marketing effort.
I'm experiencing the fact that while the "new way" gives me many more options, this "new way" is costing me far more money and time, proving once again - you don't get something for nothing.
good luck to us all!
Jeff Bach

Jeff Lyons said...


Well, that's a good point. More windows means more work for content creators. Personally, I don't mind. :)

Though it is tiring to think about it!


Jeff Bach said...

I'm all in as well. The old way truly did feature monopolistic gatekeepers. In the old system being an insider was the ONLY way. This new media model is much more democratic (the non-political small d), where anyone that wants "in" can get in. While success is by no means guaranteed, at least we all have a fighting chance to control our own destiny, something that the old model did not allow.