Web dev at the end of the world, from Hveragerði, Iceland

Random, loosely connected, thoughts on the future

Some end-of-year thoughts. Few of them happy ones.

Rule of thumb, anybody who hesitates to spend $10 on a product that will improve an activity is performing that activity as an amateur (i.e. isn’t earning an income on that activity or doesn’t see it as an income-earner). This is a rule of thumb for the producer, not a judgement of the buyer. The idea is that if you produce a work that improves somebody’s professional activity your price, even discounted, should be much higher than that of an entertainment product. Much, much higher.

I think in the long run we’ll come to see EPUB3, fixed layout especially, and IDPF’s work in general as a very costly mistake, sort of as if XHTML2 and ECMAscript 4 had actually become the minimum baseline for web development.

We are poor and have no money for joy. Youth unemployment is at a long term high and will not go down in the near future. Guess who are the biggest media consumers around? Long-term under-employment means that those under thirty today face a lifetime of struggling on the edge of poverty, owning nothing, owing everything.

Wattpad might not be the future, but the future will look more like Wattpad than it will the publishing industry (current self-publishing clique included). It will look the same to casual readers: one or two books a year break out into mainstream awareness and, backed by a large publisher, it will sell tonnes through bookstores, Tescos, and Walmarts.

Added benefit: we who are poor and have no money for joy can get stories for free if we want to.

The fiction publishing industry’s future is likely to look similar to the present day comics industry:

  • Sales one-tenth to a hundredth of their heyday.

  • Caters exclusively to pre-existing fans that grow older and fewer every year.

  • Storytelling so derivative and so creatively inbred that if they were human they’d have three arms and nostrils on their backside.

The truly innovative comics are largely prestige projects that don’t sell that much (like the current run of Hawkeye comics or FF), published by loveable nutters (like Fantagraphics, the world would truly be a sadder place were it not for loveable nutters like them), or translated (e.g. Naoki Urasawa). While at the same time the only truly mainstream publishing efforts are webcomics which get little credit from the ‘real’ industry: they reach larger numbers, have a greater variety in genres, have a much greater variety in audience, and are released for free.

Most webcomics are labours of love that never earn money. The revenue streams are ads (largely exchanges with other comics, only really lucrative for some genres of comics), merchandising, and Kickstarters for print books (the only way most fans can get a ‘real-life’ souvenir for the comics they love).

The only problem with Wattpad’s crowd-funding platform is that it might be a bit too early. Everybody involved will learn a lot over the next year or two, and these platforms will begin to attract established talent. A Wattpad-oriented crowd-funding platform will be a lot more interesting in a couple of year’s time. If Wattpad can keep their effort going through the awkward first years, they stand to be very big.

Theres a good chance that, as now, the future publishing industry will have a sharp divide between writers who make a living from writing or illustrating and the rest who earn very little, but with one big difference: you—every other profession in the publishing industry—will be unemployed and earning nothing. Corporations and publishing organisations will be fine. They just won’t be staffed with editors, proofreaders, designers, or illustrators. It’ll be a world of management and creative serfs, with the occasional serf rewarded with elevation, keeping the rest eager and pliant.

What would new iterations of the Wattpad-model look like? What form are future disruptors likely to take?

Three ideas:

  • Mini-wattpads. Either focussing on a niche or on a specific audience.

  • Curator-locusts. Small publishing entities that hover around wattpad and similar projects and gobble up projects to arbitrage to their audience.

  • Thrillbents. Coop-style publishers. Do stuff online for free, mixing in with your audience. Give them ways to pay you (subscriptions for insider extras, pay what you want digital sales for convenience, Kickstarters for print).

  • Blogs plus Topatoco/Make That Thing. Authors working from their own sites but all use a service company for merchandising, sales, and product management. Cafepress for those starting out and unproven. Graduating to more high end services such as Topatoco as they mature and gain audiences.

The ‘End of Scarcity’ dogma is profoundly evil in a world where investment banks and hedge funds make billions and kill thousands by jacking up food prices through speculation. I don’t care if the marginal cost of all media goes down to zero, that does not herald a world of abundance.

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