Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Dropping The Oars: The Evolution of Online Publishing

By Patrick J. Walsh

A few years ago, when e-books were first gaining traction and their role alongside printed books began to resemble that of a sail on a motorized dinghy — a colorful overlay to the main article, that was increasingly used to accomplish the same task — a friend tried to convince me that the future of reading lay in the pixels of an electronic screen, and that my writing endeavors needed to head in that same direction if I hoped to continue to find an audience for my work.

My friend posited the problem, and the solution, quite succinctly: “If that’s where the readers are, then that’s where you want to be.”

At that point I had already had my own website for many years, and I had been a featured columnist for the online versions of several trade magazines. But the moment was rapidly approaching when the vast majority of writing on the Internet would shift from essentially being an extension of print media to instead consisting primarily of content generated and consumed entirely online.

Were it not for the displacement that shift caused for many of my friends and for many others in the industry, it would be amusing to recall the titanic struggles that arose at many print publications, as staffers wrestled with ways to incorporate online elements into their long-established approach to publishing.

Like tiny waves heralding the rising tide, writing for publication online in the early years of the popular growth of the Internet provided tantalizing clues to the future course of the publishing industry. Before the rise of the per-item advertising model, publications still sold ads as they did for print, with a static image in a standard size; and online versions of print magazines often carried a static table of contents and design elements that linked them in style to their print cousins — but linked online to nothing at all.

With the utter democratization of online publishing, the opportunity to write and distribute one’s own work electronically has become as easy as starting a blog, or signing up for Facebook. Setting a course is as simple as my friend’s long-ago advice: keep sailing along the same crest as your readers, your sight always on the horizon...

For me personally, there is also an additional rule I must observe as I head into the wind: having worked over the entire course of my writing career to practice my craft as best I can, and having always tried to honor the faith placed in me by the editors and publishers for whom I’ve worked, I honestly try to make every item that I share online as clear and thoughtful as any writing I’ve ever done.

Even though it’s easier than ever to make my work available to anyone who wishes to read it, lazy thinking, shoddy research or sloppy writing are of as little use to my current readers as they would have been to those who read my work in the past. Simply put, if you are willing to take the time to read what I write, I need to take the time necessary to make sure that whatever I write is worth reading.

I’m grateful for all those who accompany me on the journey... 

© 2012 Patrick J. Walsh

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