It’s the control over the distribution of the writing.
The audio from the meetup can be heard via Andrew Keen’s AfterTV podcast (thanks to Sabine for the heads up via a Comment). It is a little over an hour’s worth of mostly interesting conversation, and if you doubt that Steve Gillmor has the best handle on the blogosphere, one listen will erase any doubt. He is one smart, to the point dude. My Gillmor Gang envy keeps on growing.
Anyway, Scott is responding to a post by long-time blogger Rebecca Blood in response to Scott’s initial report from the Berkeley meetup.
Rebecca’s point is that traditional publishing is about printing books and articles they can sell, which has little to do with finding the most well written material:
When publishers evaluate a book proposal, they don’t ask if the work is true or original or insightful or well-written. First and foremost, they ask themselves if they can sell it. If they don’t think they can, they pass. If they believe there is a market and that they can effectively market the work, they buy it.
Scott mostly agrees with Rebecca, but draws a distinction between the business side of publishing and the editorial side:
Most editors wouldn’t be so imprudent as to claim that they are publishing “the best” anything; usually, they’ll talk about trying to publish “the best” that they can find for their particular readers. The most effective editors have an accurate sense of who those readers are and what they want.
First of all, as someone who has written a ton of newspaper and trade journal articles, my experience has been that most editors are looking for something interesting to publish, period. Perhaps this isn’t the case at the New York Times and its ilk, but most publications are hungry for stuff to publish. Whether they will admit that or not is another story, but it’s true.
Initially, there is a process that is at least somewhat designed to locate (a) something well written that (b) fits the focus of the publication.
Veteran writers know the focus of the publications they write for and can generally hit the nail on the head focus-wise on the first try. If you’re an unknown, the bar is higher and the writing must be more compelling to pass muster. If you are a recognized name or authority, the bar gets lowered a little. Perhaps a little ironic, perhaps not. But true.
I’m no John Markoff (and far, far from it), but when I write an article, I have little to no doubt I can get it published by one publication or another. More times than not, it’s the first one I offer it to.
The first couple of articles are sort of tough, but after you’ve been doing it a while, you realize it’s just not that hard to get publications to use your stuff.
Granted, I am not writing to make a living (it’s more of a marketing thing for me), but I have been doing it for a long time and I have to believe my experience mirrors that of many others.
But It’s Not About the Writing
My bottom line on all of this, however, is that everyone has it a little wrong. We’ve been talking about the right things, but not from the correct angle.
Old media is not in crisis because we are writing our blogs. Old media is in crisis because of a two step process is taking away its stranglehold on the distribution of writing. The easy analogy is the record labels and the way they grasp at the catless bag in the face of new distribution channels for music that bypass the labels. Like traditional newspapers, the record labels are in the twilight of their relevance.
So back to the newspapers.
First eBay and Craigslist take away a chunk of the beloved classified ads and that long-standing revenue stream.
Now bloggers (which include not only morons like us, but also geniuses like Andrew Keen) are chipping away at the content distribution model. There is a lessening of the need for a middleman to direct content to us. We can produce, publish, find, read and reply to it ourselves.
And this trend is in its infancy. It will continue and, if the traditional newspapers don’t adapt, it will make them economically infeasible. That’s part of the basis of my 8 Steps to Save the Merc post.
So it’s not about the writing, and it’s not about the quality of the writing. It’s about the loss of control of the distribution of the writing.