Category Archives: social media

Press Self-Destruct: Newspaper Dinosaurs in the Digital Age

If I ever have grandchildren, I’m sure I’ll tell them about the time a newspaper did an article about me. “What’s a newspaper, granddad?” they’ll ask with genuine wonder.

Traditional or “legacy” media (a term which already appears to have consigned television, radio and newspapers to history’s dustbin) forms are struggling to survive in the 21st century. Newspapers, in particular, are seeing sales drop at an alarming rate which, in turn, reduces advertising revenue and only older, die-hard brand loyalists are happy to pay to access content on newspaper websites. It tries to roll with the times to stay afloat by hiring bloggers and sourcing stories from hackers and activists (or “hacktivists”, if you will).

The problem is that the newspaper business model of is dying and the purveyors of the new business model are not only deciding what crumbs to feed the press, they’re naming their price too.

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There is now a timescale for the demise of newspapers in most countries. It is comparable to how self-publishing challenged the dominance of printed books. Reports of the end of hardback and paperback books have been prematurely announced many times in the last decade. Then sales of ebooks dropped and the electronic takeover didn’t happen. It turns out that people like the feel and smell of a real book. Technology has an annoying habit of losing power or breaking down. Recharging is not always possible but printed books never need that just a light source to read from.

ebookvsbookThe internet had a similar affect on music too. The mp3 file appeared to have trumped vinyl records which were in a similar decline. Now vinyl sections of record stores are growing as are sales. There’s life in the old analogue dog yet.

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Could print media stage a similar comeback? It’s probably wishful thinking as news or rather the information itself is freely available from endless sources. If newspapers charge for content, people can get it somewhere else for free. Citizen journalists don’t have the resources of a major newspaper or that Pulitzer cachet, but they do have that most precious modern commodity in abundance – time. Printed newspapers report yesterday’s news, by which stage a newer story has broken online. Yes, the papers can update their websites but the loyalty is to the information and whoever breaks it first now and not the brand. Even if a newspaper gets a scoop, it can be repackaged by news aggregrator sites and the reader may not even know who originally broke it. In the frenzy to get likes and shares and the kudos of being first with news, the basic courtesy of a hat tip to the originator of a story also appears to be endangered.

So it appears the newspaper is terminal decline. It was a remarkable phenomenon while it lasted but, sadly, it seems to be going or have already gone the way of the Dodo.

© Stewart Stafford, 2017. All rights reserved.

 

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Imagination Vs Technology – The Writer’s 21st-Century Faustian Pact?

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Imaginary things take time to write. Fantasy and horror and, to a lesser extent, science fiction can be among the toughest genres to write as they are works of pure imagination. Science fiction can be slightly researched and current trends can be followed to their logical conclusion. Educated guesses can be made as to what direction science will go in. Fantasy and horror mostly comprise world-building from scratch and, depending on the writer, the concepts can take time to generate.

Added to that, readers want new product yesterday. They’ve become ultra-impatient in the internet age. Some of them even refuse to read the first book in a series as they are unable to wait for the other books to be written and published. “Am I going to have to wait years for you to finish your Vorbing trilogy? I’m an impatient bitch,” one of my readers helpfully explained to me.

In their book, The Neuroscience of Clinical Psychiatry: The Pathophysiology of Behavior and Mental Illness, Edmund S. Higgins and Mark S. George note: “People who can delay gratification and control their impulses appear to achieve more in the long run. Attention and impulsivity are opposite sides of the same coin.” This is especially true of all those internet babies who have grown up in the technological age. So the internet is a bit like Brexit; we don’t know what the full implications of its arrival are yet.

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The web has its advantages. It’s a phenomenal communication tool. Twitter has definitely made me think faster and streamline messages better, that is certain. As a way of quickly disseminating a message or a product worldwide immediately, the web takes some beating. The net is like a giant synthetic brain our thought patterns are connected to (a strength and a weakness that can be exploited). There are concerns over privacy and who is doing what with our data and those worries will only increase as time goes on.

Back to the writing. This awareness of the disintegration of attention spans has unquestionably changed both the method and style I employ when writing books. I started writing my first book when the internet was in its infancy. I was able to remain in the world I had created all day interacting with my characters. I was totally immersed in it and wouldn’t notice hours passing. Now social media, that great thief of time, eats up chunks of my day without me noticing hours passing. I mostly interact online with people I don’t know instead of my characters. I’m totally immersed in the internet. Writing is done now in feverish bursts to meet my daily word count so I can get back online. Experience has enabled me to do much more in less time though. I no longer need to spend all day going down blind alleys trying to find myself creatively. So perhaps there is no damage done there.

There are writers who have given up social media for a month to get books out there. I’d be concerned about losing half my hard-earned followers. You can’t expect people to continue following you if you’re offline for weeks. Especially if you’re a self-published writer dependent on social media to market your books. It appears to be a 21st-century Faustian pact with the web.

Then there is the pace of the novel itself. I am only too aware that if you fail to hold the attention of your readers, social media is tickling their ears non-stop to woo them away. So they’re dealing with getting their electronic fix too (especially if they’re consuming your book on an e-reader or smartphone app that’s connected to the internet and the ejector seat button for your novel is half an inch away). The pacing of a novel has to match the online frenzy going on out there or you’re toast. Then again, if the flour is going rotten to begin with, maybe the quality of the toast isn’t so important these days. We shall see.

So the internet has rewired our brains, changed our expectations and how books are written, edited, sold and read (or not as the case may be). What form will books take in 2026? 2036? 2066? Will we be taking downloads directly into our brains as in a William Gibson cyberpunk novel? I have a saying: “The possible is just the impossible that we’ve come to accept.” It will happen.

My novel “The Vorbing” is available here

© Stewart Stafford, 2016. All rights reserved.

In Pursuit of the Mighty Whoosh: The 21st Century Writer

Being a writer in the 21st century is like being the driver of a very jerkily-driven vehicle. You’ve dreamt up ideas, written them, shaped them, rewritten and edited them and published them. Then you have to switch hats and sell your work. Now you find yourself measuring your book’s merit and your own self-worth by reviews, ratings, rankings, likes, shares, follows, analytics and sales. If they rise, your confidence rockets with them. If they mysteriously drop, you become frozen with doubt. You can control your writing up to a point. After that, it’s up to readers, reviewers and bloggers to spread the word. You can’t make people buy something they don’t want no matter what social marketing gurus say (who are biased witnesses involved in the hard sell).

It is healthy to get away from that draining stuff for a while. Major writers have people to handle sales of their work. They have agents, managers and the might of publishing houses behind them with their huge advertising budgets and key media contacts. Self-published writers only have themselves and their savings to rely on. That only goes so far unless they have great connections or access to bigger sums of money. If not, they may have to accept defeat on their beloved project when the cash runs out.

Some people say make your own luck but if everyone could do that, we’d all be successful. Life is never that simple or easy. Luck is mostly being in the right place at the right time. The wind catches your sails and whoosh, you’re off. Nobody can plan for that. It just happens. Word of mouth is another way. A neglected work slowly begins to pick up. Sales rise, reviews become more plentiful and positive and you’ve caught the Mighty Whoosh again.

Being an author now is a marathon, not a sprint. The idea that you could hit the send button, publish your book and it would become an instant bestseller really is a fantasy. It will take many months, if not years, to build up a loyal readership and a solid body of work. There is even the possibility of posthumous recognition Van Gogh-style. To become rich and famous when you’re no longer around to enjoy it would be cruel but better late than never. At least your heirs may benefit from your delayed Mighty Whoosh.

© Stewart Stafford, 2015. All rights reserved.

A Newspaper Just Tweeted Me…

The Echo newspaper.
The Echo newspaper.

Just got this tweet from a newspaper. They want to reprint my blog; “The Vampires of Dublin and The Road to Dracula” in the Halloween issue and they’re sending a photographer over to my college to get some shots. I wasn’t expecting that, it’s a nice surprise when someone appreciates your writing that much.

The Inequality of Ideas

I saw a little girl with her father once on a train. She was asking all these serial “why?” questions that young children do and the father was answering them but eventually he grew exasperated and told her to shut up. I was stunned as was the child who immediately stopped asking questions. She had been scolded for seeking knowledge and her mind would close. That was a tragedy that I was witness to.

The key to gaining knowledge is to assume you know nothing, to be very child-like and open-minded and accepting of new ideas and different opinions. There is a dangerous politically correct commandment in play at the moment that I call “Thou Shalt Not Have An Opinion.” It’s where the idea and its originator are attacked in the most public, personal and savage way possible. A retraction and apology is typically demanded by an online lynch mob. If their ultimatum is not complied with, then the originator can face career meltdown and financial ruin. Scary, scary stuff. I love hearing ideas, even if I totally disagree with them or find them offensive. That is freedom of speech. We must have dialogue and debate or we are going to end up in a boring world where no one says anything daring or controversial. It is only when boundaries are pushed and sometimes broken that new art forms and ways of thinking are created.

Writing is not as collaborative a medium as making movies where you’re working with several hundred people. Until you turn the work over to editors or your readers, you are in solitary control of it and expected to have all the solutions. I value my time with other people because I value people but there are others who dismiss the ideas and opinions of others flat out. Their minds are narrowed if not closed off completely (possibly a type that little girl grew up to become.)  We live in a world where control-freakery is seen as being “strong” when actually it’s a weakness. Control freaks can’t allow others to contribute or blossom as it might overshadow them and deep down they are more insecure than anyone so they pounce. Real strength is having the confidence to hear others, even if they have ideas that are superior to yours.

Then there’s the publication of ideas and even here there is inequality and an inability or unwillingness to acknowledge them. Self-published books can be ghettoised. It’s gradually changing but self-published ideas are still prejudged before even being read. Most bookshops where I am still refuse to stock self-published books, bursaries and grants are denied to self-published authors but the taxman will happily hit you up for money upon publication. You’re “legit” when it comes to paying tax and not before it seems. It also appears that some ideas, opinions and writers are more equal than others. What do you think?

© 2014, Stewart Stafford. All rights reserved.

From Bookster to Huckster – The 21st Century Writer

Your book is nearly out there. The last creative juices have been squeezed out and your material has been edited to within an inch of its life. Time to put it out to the public and then terror strikes…you’ve got to sell the damn thing. You’ve got to move from the introverted life of a writer to the extroverted one of a salesperson and self-promoter.

Some writers began capturing their thoughts as it was a lot easier than saying them out loud to another human being and enduring the instant critique of body language. All before their listener had even opened their mouths to tell the writer what they thought of their ideas. Now, the hats must be switched and some writers face it with absolute dread. From dealing with fictional characters, they are now in the blinding spotlight as themselves and face all the probing questions that will come their way. They have to justify all their choices and decisions and in public too. There may be book tours, some writers hate having to perform in front of an audience and are unable to deliver the lines they’ve written in a way that will engage an audience. Some writers are barely audible when they speak. Some are absolute naturals with audiences and can be charming and funny. They tend to be booked for more public appearances and sell more books as a result. Being easy on the eye doesn’t hurt either, although some writers…well, we won’t go there.

Online selling is a lot easier than in person but again, some writers are not tech-savvy. For some, turning on a computer is the height of their technical abilities. For self-published writers, that can mean a lot of work as they may not have the finances to engage a big PR firm to drum up sales for them. However, in the vast recesses of the information jungle that is the internet, help is at hand. You can find YouTube tutorials on just about anything these days like how to use Photoshop (for mocking up or doing your own book covers). They’re quick, they’re free and you can repeat them as often as you want until you get what they’re telling you. It is possible to get technical if you put in the time and know where to look.

Hucksterism for writers is a necessary evil so resistance is futile. More sales give you more money and more choices and free time to write and we’d all love a bit of that. After all, nobody puts weeks, months and sometimes years into writing something to leave it gathering dust in a drawer. That’s where your inner salesperson comes in. They will help you spread the words, your words, not the.words of someone else. As Farrah Grey put it: “Build your own dreams or someone else will hire you to build theirs.” Don’t shy away from success or apologise for it. You’ve worked hard and you should reap the rewards of your labour like anyone else.

Writers might think they are cheapening themselves by being a huckster but all that will remain when they are gone will be their work. If they’ve huckstered properly, it will be work that will be read and remembered long after they are gone and that is true immortality.

© 2014, Stewart Stafford. All rights reserved.