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Dandelions, steampunk and the future of content

A series of live dispatches by if:book’s own Meg Vann from the O’Reilly Tools of Change Publishing Conference in New York City.

Henry Jenkins (HJ) in conversation with Cory Doctorow (CD) and Brian David Johnson (BDJ)


What happens when computing becomes so widespread we begin to wonder why we need it. Same question for publishing.

How do we think about the choices for different media – should content be film, book, etc?

Spreadable Media – rapid circulation – people have the capacity to pass content along – how we make those decisions?

New project: comics and graphic novels – visually dense and complex – colour and shifts in scale – 9 essays each published separately and serially – it at the end of the project it will be bundled and sold – all digital, never a print book.


What we need to do pedagogy through literature is keywords – you need search words and also literacy about how to parse out the search results. Words in novels that have “just Google it” implied with it:

  • The first inkling of what a 21st century novel looks like – always assuming there’s access to a search engine
  • The old fear that using a calculator would make children’s brains lazy – now, good contemporary maths teaching always assumes there’s a calculator handy
  • Movies that weren’t just a stage play, that weren’t just a play with a camera pointed at it


The Vintage Tomorrow project is done, now there’s an opportunity to expand and continue as an ebook.

How can we have these conversations about the future? Goal: to get as many people having these conversations as possible – through conferences, sci fi, non fi, videos etc, moving from fiction to non-fiction to video and so on.

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TOC Keynotes: Brian David Johnson

A series of live dispatches by if:book’s own Meg Vann from the O’Reilly Tools of Change Publishing Conference in New York City.

Brian David Johnson is a futurist with Intel Corporation, and a self-confessed ‘giant geek’ and ‘huge nerd’. He’s also a science fiction writer who loves steam punk (and therefore likely to be really quite awesome).

How to Change the Future

We can use science fiction to foresee the human impact of what we’re building – use science fiction to talk about science fact.

Steam punk is about technology – steam punk is playing with the past – so steam punk is all about how technology affects the past.

This is the history we want to be from – and this is the history we don’t want to be from.

Project: Vintage Tomorrows: A Historian And A Futurist Journey Through Steampunk Into The Future of Technology

The future is made every day, by people – so how do we do it? How do we change the story that people tell themselves about the future they are going to live in? That’s what publishers do. Narrative matters, stories matter, opinions matter, and we need to get those opinions out there.

We will be able to turn anything into a device to tell people about the future, even our bodies. The ‘what’, the device, doesn’t matter anymore. It’s about being good at changing those narratives, reaching people, changing the future.



TOC Keynotes: Tim O’Reilly

A series of live dispatches by if:book’s own Meg Vann from the O’Reilly Tools of Change Publishing Conference in New York City.

Day 2 of the 7th edition at TOC. My jetlaggy night’s sleep somehow allowed my brain to distill yesterday’s Author (R)evolution. In the age of content abundance that is now upon us, it’s all about the 3Ds:

  • Development
  • Distribution
  • Discovery

And authors need to start thinking about all 3Ds from the beginning of each project and across the lifespan of their writing career.

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Kate Pullinger at #ARDay #TOCcon

A series of live dispatches by if:book’s own Meg Vann from the O’Reilly Tools of Change Publishing Conference in New York City.

Kate Pullinger has helped establish The Writing Platform, funded to provide neutral information about digital transformation.

Publishers have been busy addressing digital by focusing on issues like digitising workflow etc, but not working a lot to develop what digital transformation might offer writers and readers.

Works of digital fiction:

  • An emerging market – new forms of literature emerging – apps, web apps, new types of narrative games – new forms of business models and content
  • But there is a collision between old market (in a state of extreme transition) and the new or emerging markets. Digitisation transforms the industry and the state of the art itself – what new forms will emerge?

Ebooks are created of the web but without the advantages of the web – what can you do with a book that lives on line? – what does it mean to move beyond, to a webby book? – content, connections, audiences. Have a look at Hugh McGuire’s TOC blog piece on books as API.


  • Writers, grab a technologist and hug him or her! Learn how the technology and mechanics of your own industry. See what happens when you work together.
  • Make your work spreadable.
  • Start thinking beyond the book. You can apply for a new bursary through The Writing Platform for writers working with technologists.

Kate is now working on a new project “Duel” with Andy Campbell. To facilitate the collaboration they have developed a script format, which includes a screenshot and the text to appear on screen, the type of media, and down the bottom of the script pages there are many columns that outline the required development across different platforms.




Literary Agent at #ARDay #TOCcon

A series of live dispatches by if:book’s own Meg Vann from the O’Reilly Tools of Change Publishing Conference in New York City.

Jason Allen Ashlock
President, Movable Type Management

Disintermediation jettisons people from their usual roles: readers writers, publishers, distributors. What happens when the disintermediation is so complete, when all intermediaries are kicked out and only the writer and reader remains? The new rules aren’t rules, they change consistently. The publishing revolution has created radical disintermediation then you need an agent who offers radical advocacy – get the work into the hands of readers/viewers…

If each independent author is not to start from scratch in trying to build a measured aggressive strategy, vetting and testing fees and services, left alone in the marketplace – then someone has to begin to mediate between the author and all those intermediaries. Publishing is now, more than ever, a team sport and allies are more important than ever in the noisy chaos of the current marketplace. Manage and limit the possible to the most wise.

Radical mediator agents are:

  • Not narrow, but expansive – looks across the value web to find any possible intermediary to connect a writer with reader, and oversees the formation of those relationships.
  • Thinking of them selves in a business development position – their role is to build partnerships and alliances
  • Thinking about lifespans, not events. Marketing is continuous, not title-by-title.
  • Able to disintermediate themselves by choice, so that they can stick with an author through all change and new opportunities.

Examples of how radical mediator agents can work with authors:

  • Self-published authors: remain in control but agent brings other professional relationships to the table
  • Author collectives: an agency can gather together writers that work together in a common genre or have a similar voice: create bigger masses with more weight – interesting example




Cory Doctorow at #ARDay #TOCcon

A series of live dispatches by if:book’s own Meg Vann from the O’Reilly Tools of Change Publishing Conference in New York City.

Cory Doctorow has three laws.

1. “If someone puts a lock on something that belongs to you and doesn’t give you the key, then they are not looking out for your interests.”

DRM basically puts bookcase sellers in charge of the market for our art. Once intermediaries take the whip hand, all of their offers converge on a basic set of terms which are not favourable to the artist.

There aren’t enough lawyer hours between now and the heat death of the universe to eliminate copyright infringements on YouTube. Converting fame into money is hard alchemy, and most people who do it, fail. Those who success use 5 strategies: sell things, ask for donations, charge for tickets, sell ads, sell licence, or take commissions – but only happens if you can reach an audience – which takes an intermediaries channel.

2. “Fame can’t make you rich, but you won’t get rich without fame.”

The collateral damage from organising computer networks to make it illegal to know what our computers are doing, and making it easy to hide what people are doing, all for censorship and copyright – well, that’s bad sauce. Cory becomes emotional when discussing the work of Aaron Schwartz.

3. “The job of the artist is not to be responsible for censorship and surveillance – if that’s how you’re doing art, then you’re doing art wrong.”




Live notes from the (R)evolution

A series of live dispatches by if:book’s own Meg Vann from the O’Reilly Tools of Change Publishing Conference in New York City.

Cory Doctorow is about to kickoff the Author (R)evolution Day (#ARDay) at O’Reilly’s Tools Of Change for Publishing (TOC) conference. I am front and centre, and will live blog some notes throughout the day.

Yes, I’m pretty damn excited.

I am bunkered in midtown New York for the next three days of TOC. I have a cream cheese bagel, a really big, really bad cup of coffee, and a laptop. Let;s do this!

Contrary to Gil Scott Heron’s awesome song, the (R)evolution will, in fact, be televised – you can live stream the day.

So I won’t cover everything – I’ll just share a few useful links and interesting resources that I hear about, and if the coffee kicks in I may recover enough from jetlag to add some thoughts about how TOC from the perspective of Australian writers.

And we’re off!

Joe Wikert up first: he says the pendulum of power has shifted towards authors, and that publishers need to articulate what they can offer authors, especially if authors already have a strong platform.

Kristen McLean of Bookigee (who helped Kat Meyer program the ARDay) steps up to announce that hybrid authors now out-perform and out-earn their traditionally published and self-published peers. They are sophisticated, have a knowledge of publishing, are entrepreneurial, and keen to work with the new publishing ecology.

Cory has started! I’m going to tweet a photo – I’m on @meg_vann and the hashtags are #toccon and #ARDay


Building an enhanced ebook

choose your ownWe’ve been hard at work on an ‘enhanced’ ebook for the iPad, based on last year’s Choose Your Own project for the Queensland Poetry Festival.

In the original project, three local poets wrote a series of pieces based around specific locations within Brisbane’s home of everything loud and late, Fortitude Valley. Each of the three adventures opened at the Judith Wright Centre on Brunswick Street and, from there, readers had to choose the next location and walk there to read (or listen) to the next poem.

The poets – Chris Lynch, Carmen Leigh Keates, and Julie Beveridge – not only created beautiful, evocative, and sometimes hilarious poems, they also played with the notion of choice and prompted quite a bit of what looked like aimless wandering through the Valley streets.

To adapt this locative project for the small screen, we brought in photographer Cindy Keong to the project to capture the essence of the locations for each piece. We also brought the humble hyperlink to the book. Readers can either move sequentially through the book or brave the links to jump between each location minus the heat and legwork (unless you really want to, in which case we have maps).

Titled The City We Build, the book will soon be available free from Apple’s iBookstore, from the Queensland Poetry Festival‘s web site and here at if:book. We’ll post more details of the project   soon (including screenshots), but until then, here are a few images we took while recording the poets’ performances.




The Future You Weren’t Expecting

Since its inception in 2010, if:book Australia has published tens of thousands of words from some of the nation’s best writers and thinkers on book futures, delivered workshops from Perth to Canberra to Alice Springs, created real-world story adventures, and took a complete book from concept to print in twenty-four hours.

This year, we embark on an ambitious program that builds on previous work and explores the nature of what it means to write and to read in a hyperconnected and rapidly moving environment.

Want to see what he have planned? Continue Reading →


Have we emerged yet?

Emerging. There’s a word that tends to stalk writers for a long time. It always reminds me of natural selection: the idea that a writer’s emergence is less from obscurity and more from some kind of primordial soup. Like Godzilla.

In 2008, I met a group of writers who were all at much the same stage of emergence as I was. In evolutionary terms, I guess we were at the reptilian stage. Since then, all eight of us have taken extremely different paths. Some of us have been published traditionally and some have chosen to go it alone. Some of us have done both. And some have opted not to engage with the industry all—yet. I would argue we have all been successful, but some of our names you’ll recognise and some you won’t. Though we all now occupy a different habitat, we’re still equals, discussing similar problems and clinging to the same love of writing that brought us together in the first place.

Our conversations reflect the same daily challenges of putting words together and the same pressures, both external and internal.

For me and I think for many writers it’s not necessarily about how many copies are sold or how much money you make it’s about seeing your work published.

I remember when I was writing like a maniac for years and years, always with the dream of snagging a bite from a big publisher. That was the surface motivation. But looking back I realise that the far deeper motivation was that I just enjoyed it so much.

So here’s my question: out of this group of writers, who can we say has emerged and who is still in the process?

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