Has Anyone Figured Out How to Marry Digital Media and Literature? [Smart Set]

Smart Set

Welcome to the weekly The Smart Set, where I share three smart pieces worth reading about the publishing and media industry. I also point to issues and questions raised, and welcome you to respond or ask your own questions in the comments.

“To seek: to embrace the questions, be wary of answers.”

—Terry Tempest Williams


5 Myths About the New Era of Publishing by Adam Lefton

An excellent question is posed by Lefton: What if some of our common beliefs about how to marry digital media and literature are misguided? 

Lefton’s piece is inspired by the downfall of Byliner, often celebrated as an innovator and potential business model for the new digital era of publishing. Yet cracks in the facade of that company—as well as others—are showing, and Lefton identifies five potential myths that have been sold about digital media + literature, including:

  • Spotify and Netflix are strong models for literature. Nope.
  • Longform journalism should be the backbone of digital innovation. Maybe not.
  • Big names matter. Not really.
  • Wait, what does it even mean to PUBLISH these days? A good question.

I highly recommend reading the full piece over at Litragger.

Thoughts & questions:

  • What lessons can we learn from Byliner?
  • What role do subscription services play in the future of books/literature?
  • How well can we apply lessons from film and music industries to that of the book industry?
  • Being a publisher doesn’t seem to add much value these days. (Does it? What does?)

Why the Current VC/Media Marriage May Be Bad for Journalism by Nicholas White

Venture capitalists are taking a greater interest in investing in media companies or journalism-based startups. White argues this isn’t necessarily a good thing, for several reasons: (1) such ventures cost a lot of money up front, (2) they scale only up to a point, (3) they take time to become profitable and sustainable, and (4) exits are not as obvious. Read the full post.

Thoughts & questions:

  • I have only grim thoughts reading this; having worked for a corporate media company during three changes in ownership (to a series of venture-capitalist firms), the short-term thinking that often prevails is rarely beneficial for the future of the business, the staff, or the readership.

99% of what writers are hearing in terms of advice comes from 1% of authors by Bob Mayer

An excellent reminder from traditionally and indie published author Bob Mayer:

… we want to hear from success stories, not failures. Still, if it were easy to replicate those successes, then everyone would be doing it. Plus, many success stories feel their path is the path, and don’t take into account not only other paths, but the changes in the business and even in story telling since they started. … Does what the 1% say regarding their career path even apply any more? Things are different now than they were just six months ago. … We hear “This is the way to do it!” shouted, but is it for you? 

Read the full post.

Thoughts & questions:

  • There are many smart authors (and industry experts) sharing their advice on blogs, at writing conferences, and in publications. Who do you read that offers a 360-degree view—someone who can really put themselves in the shoes of a writer who is just starting out? Share in the comments.
Posted in Smart Set.
Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. She also has a book forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, The Business of Being a Writer (March 2018).

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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8 Comments on "Has Anyone Figured Out How to Marry Digital Media and Literature? [Smart Set]"

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Robin Mizell
I’ll offer a few observations as a reader/consumer, although I don’t particularly have an opinion. Byliner and Medium were comparable startups initially, so it might be of value to analyze why one faltered. Instead of either, I was reading Longform, which served a similar purpose, except that its only original content as far as I knew was a podcast series. Automattic bought Longform and incorporated it into WordPress.com, and I haven’t yet figured out what use it will be to me as a reader in its new incarnation. It appears as though media companies remain very interested in community building… Read more »