Print and web publishing...

(Tim) Over at I, Cringely, the buildup to the tablet Apple's rumored to be coming out with soon is the occasion for an excellent series of articles on publishing's past and present. As Jobs prepares to unleash Apple's latest, where have we been and where are we headed?

When I started blogging for World, lots of people told me to shorten my posts because no one wanted to read online content longer than a paragraph or two. As I saw it, though, the web was another gift from God allowing us to bypass The Suits at the wealthy Christian magazine and book publishers. It didn't seem right to waste this tool on the sort of once-over-lightly crud most blogs served up. Why not use the web as an extension of a pastor's calling to shepherd God's flock?

Sure, there was no pay in it. But if what we cared about was the Church; if what motivated us was Her protection and sanctification in the Word of God; then shepherds could use this new medium with joy, thanking God for the ability to publish without the transfer of money in either direction. Not being paid by any publisher was the perfect equation for us, wanting as we did to write some pieces no evangelical publisher would allow.

The wonder of it is that, once again as at the time of the Reformation when printing and pamphleteering hit, God has given us technology that makes it possible to bypass the compromised or corrupt powers that be...

As the Reformers were able to go into print, bypassing The Miters and Croziers of Rome, today we're able to go onto the web, bypassing the schoolmen and suits of New York, Atlanta, Grand Rapids, St. Louis, Colorado Springs, and Wheaton.

The sea-change in publishing we've witnessed in the past five years means pastors are able to speak to the Church without having to receive the blessing of, for instance, the PCA's bishops, cardinals, and pope. These men aren't happy about this. They see themselves as gatekeepers who alone are to be trusted. But of course, across church history it's been rare that the Holy Spirit's Truth has  been guarded most faithfully by the rich and famous. And if a man were to make the case that today's the one exception to that rule, I'd want to know what goodies he'd gotten from these guys. You bet there's a payoff somewhere.

Anyhow, those were a couple thoughts spawned by this series on the future of publishing on the web. To whet your appetite, here's an excerpt from the first in the series:

Ad agencies 15 years ago didn’t want to know whether or not their ads had actually been read, they told us. This was simply because if an advertiser discovered that few, if any, people were actually reading their ad on page 113, the company might just pull that ad and save their money, taking revenue away from the ad agency in the process. The entire ability to sell an ad-edit ratio of 75 percent (which was needed to qualify for printed distribution by second class mail – yet another buggy whip in a digital era) was based on this deliberate ignorance. Ad agencies and publications alike knew that many — even most — advertising dollars were simply wasted, but it wasn’t in their interest to admit that, so they didn’t.

Contrast this to pay-per-click, which is brutally honest, where every successful ad has efficacy and advertisers have a pretty darned good idea what they are getting for their money. This reality is precisely why ad-supported magazines, newspapers, and television are losing revenue. It is a trend that is likely to continue, and can only result in a degradation of production standards on the print side to match the reduced revenue potential of the online business, where BS gives way to measurable, though impoverished, results.

It is not a pretty picture. More pay-per-click means more online content but ultimately less money for producing that content. Print publications fade from sight or continue primarily as art forms, rather than businesses. None of this is intentional. This isn’t Google or Apple or any other company setting-out to destroy an industry. It is simple Darwinian evolution that will ultimately make many print publications as obsolete as I already am.

Comments

Nice Post, one quibble...

I would argue that this "sea change" allows both TE's and RE's to speak to the church directly.

When I worked at the Herald-Times this was their big hovering cloud of doom. However, unlike most papers the HT knew the potential of the web and went to it a bit too early (but do well now).

You see a clear evolution of these materials - look at the HT comments at the end of online stories. People want to argue more and more with less and less real data and even less real wisdom. That's the future of media - and I'm demonstrating it here - I hardly wanted to read the article before quickly spouting off about what I think.

When I taught computers at the public schools it really hit home to me that everything must be boiled down to a short entertaining nothing or else it is not fit for survival.

Consider the success of Keyboard Cat!!?? (But I personally love the Llama song.)

My students couldn't think in anything but short bursts of entertainment, it was chilling how the medium was fundamentally changing our minds' ability to process complicated ideas. It wasn't much better at the Christian school in town.

While working at the Bloomington public schools, I got to argue with librarians (typically against any "censorship") about why we needed to put filters on our web content (after a teacher was caught downloading porn during school hours).

One librarian said she hates to restrict anything and vehemently protected porn - but wanted to see "hate speech" removed from the Web alltogether - not just filtered out. I said I'd rather see the net not in schools at all than to delete "hate speech" from the web entirely. I want to see the gospel be able to spread via the net without it being cut out at the sources.

Already there's a huge amount of web censorship. Some in the name of homeland security, other in the name of "choice" - but it's pervasive.

So the web is already changing - it may not be free press for much longer if it is even now.

-Clint

Agreed, but in many ways this is also a two-edged sword. This is because the Web has allowed all sorts of religious nonsense to circulate as well, because the gatekeepers and censors who could no longer stop you, could no longer stop them either. You might be far more accesible than before, but so is ..... [take your pick].

>>allows both TE's and RE's to speak to the church directly

Absolutely. Sorry I didn't say that.

Yours,

Clint,

I think you err in lumping a blog such as this one (and I read several of this type) with the comments section of HT news stories. Those sorts of things I learned to avoid completely after grazing through just one of them some years ago.

And censorship ... it depends on the gatekeeper and what standards he uses. Prs. Tim and David, for example, censor this blog, and their censoring hand is fairly light when I compare it with those of other forums I read. Part of that (the light hand, I mean) is for the edification of this blog's readers -- sometimes the best refutation of a fool is to let him babble for all the world to behold his folly.

Other times, our blog hosts, as good stewards of this technology, remove posts and posters, refusing to grant a platform to destructive heresies and similar toxins.

But, the greatest value beyond the labor of our hosts comes from the community of readers who comment here. The very best blogs are those whose readership police the wackos who wander in with their off-beat comments. Again, the half-dozen other blogs I regularly read have this feature in their makeup.

Finally, a benefit which may be confined to me alone: a blog such as this one (blessed with competent hosts and a self-policing community of commentators) gives me a window on the world of the PCA, a window free from the window-dressing of denominational muckety-mucks who are continually worrying about the PR dimensions of their news-reporting.

My ecclesiastical house is the English Reformation, not the Swiss or the German. To satisfy my desire to keep up with the Church catholic, I need places where I may lay my finger on the pulse of Christian communions other than my own. And that is why I read a blog like this one, and reserve any comments I make to issues relevent to catholic Christianity rather than issues of moment to the PCA or orthodox Presbyterianism alone.

Your concerns that this forum may face censorship by a government agency (or a civil suit in federal court) has merit, particularly with the homosexual party achieving "oppressed minority" status under federal law. "Hate speech" legislation cannot be far away. Just look across our northern border to see how this gets trained upon orthodox Christian voices.

Fr. Bill,

Yeah, I didn't mean that, I'm not lumping this blog into it - just my response as being similar to the trend in America right now. Some of our foolishness will come out here on this blog too. Yet blogs like this are what is great about the Internet. Other blogs though may as well be twitter for how inane they are.

I'm not saying all "censorship" is bad. In the public schools there need to be web filters but that doesn't mean that all things filtered shouldn't exist out in the world someplace.

Funnest example of censorship I heard about was at the public schools a librarian said someone gave them a bible for their collection - they didn't know if they were allowed to put it into circulation.

-Clint

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