I have been a participant in and observer of the publishing world for over 30 years now. I first worked as an academic librarian beginning in 1979, and then became a more careful observer when I launched a writing career at age 50 (2005).
As a beginner freelance writer in 2005, I quickly noted that many paper magazines were seeing their last days of profitability. Fluctuating between maintaining a paper version while also introducing an online edition, most eventually learned the new rules of publishing: readers expect everything to be online, and everything online should be free or very close to it.
I got into freelance writing in time to observe the demise of most paper magazines and many newspapers as well. I struggled for a few years, hoping that I might be able to make some small living freelancing, until a national magazine accepted my article with a complete re-write, scheduled it for publication and then trashed it at the very last minute with no kill fee, no nothing. That was when I knew freelance writing was dead as an actual moneymaking scheme, at least for those just starting out.
So I began to blog. The party line was, you need a blog to help you find your writer’s voice, create a publishing platform, and attract your own niche-specific audience. So one day in late 2007, I became the “Midlife Crisis Queen” online. After my stint as a freelancer, I completely enjoyed the freedom of sharing some strong opinions about turning 50 in America. No nasty editors to mess up my well thought out opinion pieces, just worldwide virtual friends, blog carnivals and linky love.
And I quickly attracted lots of happy readers. Why were they so happy? Because they were getting my best writing and stories for free, writing that before the Internet they would have had to search out and then pay for.
Still and all, I found the positive attention, independence and immediacy of blogging intoxicating. After about a year, the writer’s high I got from my newfound online audience convinced me to write and self-publish my first book, naively surmising that the many readers who were flocking to my blog would certainly also want to purchase a book by me. After all, it worked for Diablo Cody, the writer behind the Oscar-winning movie Juno.
Not so for me. I have slowly and painfully learned that free is the only thing that “sells” these days, and free is a world away from a book that requires an actual purchase decision and then some sort of commitment to reading it.
The Internet may at first appear to be the answer to every entrepreneur’s dream. Much like the Gold Rush of the Forty-niners, the Internet offers some nice prospecting in international markets without much initial investment. That’s why it has become the outlet for every get-rich-quick scheme known to man (or woman.) But if you follow this line of thought just a bit further, you will realize that most of us go online for free information or entertainment, not to spend money.
There are many things the Internet does well. It can connect those who wish to create a revolution when a country is ripe for immediate change. It can quickly connect you with friends and lovers whom you haven’t spoken to in decades. It can even create an enticing illusion of human connectedness, and just as quickly snatch it away when you realize how virtual most online friendships are.
Attempting to figure out the capricious whims of the fickle Internet browsers of the world, who generally have the attention span of a flea, is pure folly. Who has time to read even a short book when we are confronted daily with an onslaught of mostly meaningless “info-tainment” online? Who has time for an actual life? Who has time to think about what matters? Who has time to think at all? Just Google it!
From where I stand, writing has recently been transformed into editing, printing and marketing all rolled into one, in our new hyper-connected world. Just about anyone can write and publish anything at any time, creating a cacophony of a million voices all struggling to be heard. But does this new technology make our lives better? What has become of scholarly or even intelligent thought?
The Internet has created a unique opportunity for those who have something to say, but what has it done for those of us who need to make a living saying it?