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Melbourne Writer's Festival: Future of the Book

Thursday the MWF got all digital. There were sessions dedicated to marketing in the info age and showing off the latest e-readers. I got along to three sessions but the whole day proved too much of a test of stamina and battery life.

The opening was called the State of Digital Publishing. Victoria Nash and Elizabeth Weiss grappled with the huge subject from the publisher point of view. They were concerned about the rise of the $9.99 e-book and how it had pushed them into what Elizabeth refererred to as "Get all out books out there and have them competing" mentality. Victoria mentioned piracy and how they saw it as "protecting our authors' copyright and obviously our revenues". It all looked very industry-focussed and I felt like the author was out of the picture.

Thirty minutes in Bob Stein got a word in about the future. He pointed out that more than a million books are available on public domain and that the book industry was facing the same challenges that video and music had online. He characterised it as seeing the book as something unique that allowed it "a free pass - I actually think it's going to be worse". It wasn't all grim as cloud computing would change the way we read and Bob pointed to newer shorter forms of writing that would thrive in this environment. Get your flash fiction ready now.

The marketing session was interesting - apparently it's all about community and SEO. But no-one really had a good way to monetise community. Lonely Planet pointed to blogsherpa (sharing traffic with bloggers rather than pays them) and their new groups. While Brett Osmond pointed to sucesses they'd had like a Where the Wild Things Are Facebook page which offered fans (more than 40,000 of them last look) of the book new content. I couldn't help but thinking that a major movie might have pushed up the fan numbers a tad. The AirBourne project Random House conducted looked amazing with 28 chapters contributed by users and the whole manuscript bookended by thriller writer James Patterson. But again it was called "a marketing exercise" rather than a big moneyspinner.

Thank god for Liner Notes' Thriller edition which ended the day on a high. Nick Earls mashed up Beat It with Masterchef while managing to sidestep Weird Al Yankovic's Eat It. But Melbourne's own shone out with Emily Zoey Baker doing a Jeff Goldblum impersonation, Sean M Whelan working his poetic alchemy on "Ma ma se mama sa ma ma coo sa" until the phrase had a new meaning and Ben Pobje told us how long lost twins getting it on was all part of Human Nature. A fitting tribute to the King of Pop that brought tears to the eye.

Cross-posted at Saturation Point of Bells.


  1. thanks for the writeup of this session. I was interested to go, but didn't think I'd have the stamina.
    this cloud computing looks interesting. I followed your link.

    Any other links to cloud computing.

    I went to the session on publishing in the US. I thought the indie publishers were optimistic and challenged by recent developments rather than depressed about it all.

  2. Meant to put a question mark at the end of 'any other links to cloud computing?'

  3. Cloud computing looks at the idea of computing beyond your desktop and mobile - in a 'cloud' that surrounds all sorts of technology. It's where the network is the basis of all computing (not your machine and various apps that you might need to install).
    There's a great video explaining it with brains much bigger than mine here:


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