'How's Your Vanity Website?'

That’s what Andrew Sullivan, discussing the 10th anniversary of his blog on All Things Considered last night, remembers being asked 10 years ago. His blog, The Daily Dish, of course, went on to become a popular and influential site, and Sullivan, according to Scott Rosenberg in his history of blogging Say Everything, ” was probably the first blogger to raise real money by asking his readers for it”.

In the course of those ten years an earthquake has shaken the content industries and each of them–music, books, newspaper and magazine publishing–is now on its own course to reconstruction and evolution. Those courses overlap and diverge as publishers, retailers, authors, artists, agents struggle for their new place while web-based companies from various sides enter the fray to try to mix them up and reinvent their respective roles. (see blog posts to come)

But one theme that has run through these battles is this vanity charge thrown at Andrew Sullivan in 2000. In the old, pre-earthquake world, a writer or musician gained authority when a corporate publisher or record label agreed to distribute his or her work. In that world, a vanity work, as in “vanity press” stood opposed to the gatekeeper-endorsed work distributed by a corporate publisher or record label.

In the blog world, Andrew Sullivan and others described by Rosenberg went on to blow away the distinction as the web created a platform for everyone to say everything. And audiences have found the ones they value and ignored the ones they don’t, and many individuals have made it big without any large organization or corporate endorsement.  In Bob Garfield’s words in a Beyond the Book interview last year,

the barriers for entry have fallen down. I mean, it used to cost billions of dollars to produce and distribute television programming, and we’ve had to have this vast infrastructure. Now, Courtney, the 8th grader, can produce video and distribute it over the Internet and have exactly the same access to audience that Universal Pictures, NBC has. I mean, that’s kind of phenomenal.

As each of the content industries has gone through the digital gatekeeper-destroying revolution, accusations of vanity have competed with assertions of beauty and value in the new democratization. And now as this story plays out in the book industry, the old vanity press disparagement is losing its meaning. Much discussed in the publishing conference- and web-world, the rise of sites like Smashwords, giving authors a direct path to e-book publication on multiple platforms, raises obvious questions about the future role of publishers.

So: the first of oh, let’s say 7 main themes I plan to tackle on this site: the rise and meaning of the new “indie publishing” world. Folks like the people behind Indiereader.com, who replace the old disparaging Vanity label with the much cooler Indie prefix, are inventing new ways to connect authors outside the corporate publishing system with audiences. And with their new IndieReader Selects program they’re trying to do the same with physical books, via, yes, indie bookstores.

In this new world where authors can now say everything in book form as well as blog form, there is, as there has long been in the blog world, great stuff amidst much mediocrity. How will the great rise to the top without the old method of publisher or label-endorsement? Many point to the new role of  (hot buzzword) curators. In Garfield’s words:

There’s going to be a bull market for aggregation, curation, separating the wheat from the chaff, finding the needles in the haystack. There’s kind of a crowd-sourcing way to do that, like Digg and so forth that helps stuff percolate to the top. And then there’s going to be a market for judgment in this world too, so some people will make a living finding the good stuff and consolidating it…

And who will that be in the world of books? As the vanity distinction blows away and books are out there in e- and p-form to be sifted through and discovered what will be the crowd forms and what will be the individually judged forms? And where do the old publishers go? Much more to come….

2 responses to “'How's Your Vanity Website?'

  1. So glad you’ve finally acquired a little vanity. Love your blog.

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