Thursday, November 29, 2007

Moving Beyong Ezines (Or moving beyond, if I could spell today...)

Ever since the discussion about whether or not the genre has stagnated people have floated suggestions for how to breathe fresh life into crime fiction, and at least one new site has been initiated as a result.

It’s something that I’ve considered extensively, and one of the comments Stephen Blackmoore made is the one that still rings out days later. But there is a lot of room for doing something different. Not only in story, but in format.
All of the things you say are not only doable, but I think in some areas are already happening. Web magazines have been around forever. I ran one over ten years ago (abysmal failure, no focus, badly formatted - don’t ask).
But no one has really tapped the web for everything it’s got. Not even close. People are still thinking in hyperlinks, Static images from Flickr and LOLCATS. Mashups are coming close, but they’re not there much beyond mapping data, yet. The web (as are comics and video games) is a medium in its own right. It’s opened up more possibilities for story telling than I think most people realize, and no one is really taking advantage of.
Cheap Truth was interesting because it played with convention and used what was available at the time for effect. It’s all one big text file, which, at the time was perfect for email distribution or hosting online. It worked for what it is, something that took advantage of the medium in which it was written.
The current spate of ezines are doing the same, but I think they’re still behind the curve. We’re using Wordpress, Blogger and hand coded HTML because those are the tools that are out there. Dreamweaver is expensive and really doesn’t give people the simple tools they need to do more than tables and badly formatted CSS. By and large, writers are interested in writing, not thinking in pixels or font sizes. And, sadly, a lot of peopel aren’t designers (really are salmon, fuchsia and a dancing monkey the best way to go here?)
Also, there’s the cost and time in production. To tap the web for all its worth takes a lot of money. Not for hosting or bandwidth, that’s cheap, but for production. It doesn’t have to be all text. Video, audio, interactivity. Something that lets the story play out on multiple levels.
I’d say the only things that are really taking advantage of what digital story telling can be are viral marketing campaigns ( for the next Batman movie and for Halo 2) and video games like Half-Life 2 and its subsequent episodes, including the game Portal (the cake is a lie the cake is a lie the cake is a lie).
And for the record, I’m not talking about something to replace books. That’s not going to happen and shouldn’t happen. I’m talking about the difference between paint and television. As media, they’re not comparable, even though they share qualities (both have visual elements, both can be used to create art, etc.).
So unless there’s money behind it and money to be made (either on the production side or the tool generating side), I don’t think we’re going to see anything much new in terms of types of format.

(As an aside, I have Dreamweaver, and am slowly learning how to use it…)

Stephen is absolutely correct in his assessment of the fact that the potential for the internet as a medium has not been tapped. In truth, he’s steering this towards pet territory of mine: communication theory. This is one of the reasons I believe the Amazon Kindle will fade quickly and be replaced by something else – as with internet ezines, all Kindle is really doing is taking the printed page and putting it on a screen. As with computers there’s the ability to store data and enlarge the text, but it really only transfers written data to an electronic device. What I believe we’ll see happen down the road is interactive audio options, with possible music the same way that TV shows have music, and possibly even action options. In the same way that children’s books have added electronic elements related to pressing buttons and performing various actions, the ebook by its nature demands to see the format of storytelling evolve, not merely be replicated. And as an environmental option, paper is recyclable, and books can be passed on: we must remember the piles of TVs, computer screens and other electronic devices that contribute different issues to landfill sites. Other electronic devices decrease in price over time because development costs are front-loaded to the first tier of consumers, and what typically happens is that the device (and the clones that spring up) become so cheap they’re easily disposable. I have typically found that when going to the store to buy printer ink cartridges (before I got a laser printer) it was often cheaper to buy a brand new printer that included the ink than just to replace the cartridges, and as a result there are at least half a dozen printers in this house – more unused ones in the shed.

In the wake of the transitions with Spinetingler I have considered various options for structuring the site, and one consideration was using Ning. At this time I decided not to, for a variety of reasons:

1. I don’t know the Ning system well enough, and right now don’t have time to learn it.
2. I had concerns about whether or not to ‘let people join’ – as Ning is supposed to be a platform for social networking sites – and the repercussions of uncontrolled content. Bluntly, I worried about what happened in the early days of Crimespace, with piles of bsp-crazy authors jumping on to upload their book covers, book trailers, blurbs and whatever else. While advertising revenue may be a necessary evil in order to allow ezines to evolve to the next level, it still needs to be controlled and I am convinced that excessive volume of self promotion becomes one of two things: a major irritation or a source of white noise that renders all promotion less effective.
3. There are still a number of people online that don’t have computers capable of handling all the graphics and video, and because I was aware some had difficulty getting Ning to load initially, I decided to hold off, for now at least.

While I am certainly not upset that anyone is starting a new fiction site, or even criticizing that (it's another publication venue!), I do think Stephen is right. The time has come for the next evolution of content delivery. What that will look like remains to be seen (but I can imagine crossword mysteries that have interactive games and give the reader the chance to figure them out, for example). While I have some ideas that I don’t want to delve into just yet, I have been perusing the web and looking at other sites for insight and inspiration.

The growth of book trailers demonstrates there is a belief that visual mediums can connect to a wider audience. In only a few days John McFetridge’s trailer has received 93 views. Considering his first book isn’t in wide release yet, until it’s July release from Harcourt (presently available in hardcover from a Canadian publisher) I think that shows the potential that can be tapped by utilizing YouTube.

In Steve Mosby’s case, his German publishing deal has obviously been taken pretty seriously, as someone professionally designed this. I predict we’ll see more of this for the most established, money-making authors in the future.

What we really need is to utilize the interactive capabilities of the internet, to use sound and visual media in order to broaden the reach of the work, and yet to maintain a professional standard with the content.

Sites such as FantasyBookSpot have expanded to encompass mystery, horror and romance, have extremely active forums with dedicated members, and run the Heliotrope cross-genre ezine. They post extensive reviews, interviews and regular news bulletins. It is comparable to Crimespace, although Crimespace does not have its own publication and FantasyBookSpot has a more controlled home page, where it’s not possible for members to affect the content. This ensures it doesn’t become a dumping site for personal promotion.

One of the other sites that seems to be headed in the right direction is one from my own back yard. Eleventh Transmission is pegged as Calgary’s arts, culture, media and activism site. It integrates bulletins on upcoming events, video feeds via YouTube, fiction publications, contests, articles and podcasts to optimize its reach. While some of the YouTube video displayed needs sound work, this is a step in the right direction, and more along the lines of what I believe Stephen was getting at, although I think it still falls short of his full vision.

However, I have yet to see any crime fiction ezine do anything on this level.

Food for thought? Perhaps. I do believe the best outcome for Spinetingler would be if I could integrate other forms of storytelling and interaction in order to utilize the web to its fullest. However, in order to do that, I’d need others with skills on board or the resources to put things together.

In other words, if someone with the financial resources sponsored a site development and maintenance, the potential is there to tap into a wider market. Unfortunately, it would take long-term vision, which is not something the publishing industry seems willing to indulge if it involves financial resources, and so we are, as Stephen says, behind the curve.


Eileen said...

I find the development of book trailers very interesting and will be critical to book promotion in the years to come. Did you read the Newsweek article on the future of books and the possible growth of e-book readers? Interesting stuff.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I agree - do you have a trailer for your book?

English said...

As a book trailer marketing specialist I can confirm that book trailers are selling books. We have booksellers taking trailers as content, not co-op.

As a publicist for both bestselling and mid-list authors I am always looking at the evolution of internet marketing. And I agree that there's more to do here, but you need long term commitment.
You have sites like Reader's Entertainment TV that appeal to a younger audience and you have book reviews and author sites for more traditional readers.

Amazon charges for book video placement, but you can do a video book review, add in your book cover and perhaps even include bits of your trailer and upload that baby for free to the site.

Part of the problem isn't necessarily money (though it is a consideration to be sure) but time. Who has the time to write and promote in a way that is truly effective?

What would be great is to have a single site that aggragetes online promotional opportunities according to cost and time.

I've used PR Web with great success and I highly recommend it.
Our book trailers get a minimum of 10,000 hits a month per trailer. And those numbers are growing. Tie the press release to the trailer and you have even more hits.

This was a very interesting blog. I'm so glad I came across it! Very intriguing discussion.

Sandra Ruttan said...

English, excellent points - thank you. Absolutely, time is a huge factor as well as money.

I love the idea of bookstores showing trailers - I think multi-media marketing is in the future. Sometimes I'm amazed just thinking of all the changes in my lifetime, how twenty years ago we didn't have the internet, how even ten years ago I wasn't using e-mail and now it's part of my daily life. The rise of books on tape, then CD, ebooks and now e-readers... And now we have book trailers. It's only a matter of time before we start seeing more integrated storytelling formats, I think.

Karen C - said...

Sandra - there's a world of content delivery mechanisms out there that don't involve fiddling around with HTML.

C(ontent) M(anagement) S(ystems) are a joy to work with - get a good one up and running and you never have to look a web programmer in the eye again (okay well I'm married to one so I do look him in the eye very often - once a week when the garbage is due to go out - but that's a whole 'nother story).

Seriously - getting content out there is should be about the content - not the delivery system these days :) :)