“It used to be called, simply, vanity publishing,” a good friend said to me, recently. She is more than just a friend, she’s the kind of good friend who tells you the truth, not always what we want to hear.
I’ve made some wonderful friends as a writer in the WordPress.com community. Although I’ve written a few ‘Amazon books’ as well, I’m not going to talk about them, here. This is for something far more important: a personal vision of the future and the content of self-publishing.
We can easily overlook the fact that WordPress is a self-publishing mechanism, as well as a blogging world and enabler of websites. We think of the vast machine that is Amazon books or ebooks as the dominant mechanism for getting from idea to ‘print’, although Amazon’s genius was to offer an international print-on-demand machine from which the majority of its writers – the content providers of its product – receive nothing…
I’m torn here, because Amazon does a lot of things right. I’m not sure we would have fared as well as we all did without them during Covid. The idea of ebooks is an excellent one, but…
It feels good to have a set of paper books on the shelves that bear your name as author. That’s important, because for the majority of us, that’s all we’ll get. There is an argument that the effect of our satisfaction with very little (apart from our vanity) has greatly eroded the quality of the book market. There are no certificates for good writing… Perhaps we need a General Certificate of Competent Writing.
It’s difficult to find a way through this, but some do. It’s all about marketing, of course. But experienced marketeers will tell you how much effort they have to put in, each week, to keep any income stream at all. I know of none who make more than a basic income, even those very good at it.
Perhaps the very nature of writing is changing – and, importantly, its value as an asset. My weekly blog-writing consists of three posts shared across two sites: Some fun fiction on Sunday; a Tuesday post on both Sun in Gemini and the Silent Eye, and a serious post on Thursday, usually centred on the core of what the Silent Eye does – modern mystical practice.
To me, this is more like a magazine than a book. I always stick to this weekly cycle; it allows my readers to know what’s coming. If they want to try my latest poetic offering, for example, they will always find them on a Tuesday.
The beauty of this cycle is that I always know from the stats what those regular readers actually think. Many are kind enough to tell me, on the day, what they feel about the latest post. These ‘live’ comments are at the heart of the ‘aliveness’ of the WordPress world, and the reason I view many of my readers as friends, even though I may never meet them.
In idle moments, I let my mind extrapolate from what this stuff of mine actually is, and how this ownership might evolve. The content has grown over the seven years I’ve been blogging. I’ve probably got enough there to fill fifty or so books. That’s a lot of substance, and it’s got me thinking about the real value of content, and how much more it would be worth if we, collectively, got tired of being fleeced…
WordPress doesn’t do that. It protects its ‘creatives’ very well, though it has some amusing notions about testing code.
This arrangement of the world’s content providers starving on one side of the fence, across from the mansions of the few companies that feed off it is all very one-sided,
So here’s what I think will happen if we creatives get our act together in the world of small-scale writing; as contrasted with newspapers and printed magazines. This is a world that WordPress are ideally placed to support and profit from.
Books will become less important though their content will not. The website will become the ‘iCafe’; a place in which you can get to know ‘Steve Tanham’ and find out whether you share ideas, curiosities and certain convictions. You won’t have to do this by spending days trawling through the writer’s website because there will be automated ‘avatars’ representing both your interests and privacy. These will utilise Artificial Intelligence (AI) to hold an ongoing discussion with the owner of the iCafe – the writer.
Both viewer (via avatar) and writer (cafe-owner) will only share as much as they wish, but the process will be one of gradual revealing of the ‘self’ of the cafe and its visitor. More experienced writers on WordPress will have an advantage because they will be familiar with both the methods of scammers and the ‘getting to know you’ phases of engaging with their actual and potential public.
The AI will help a lot in this, which is not intended to be a substitute for secure e-commerce or any banking practice. The modern banking apps on our phones and computers is a very sophisticated facility, one we need to support.
If your avatar likes what it sees, there will come a period when the curtains are pulled back and actual dialogue is engaged, But the AI avatar will watch over this for danger signs – if you wish it to. The Avatar and its protective settings belong to you.
It would not surprise me if Apple, with its committed focus on the privacy of our data, releases such an avatar architecture in the near future. By that time, WordPress might even work, reliably, on Apple platforms.
At the end of this process, I as a browsing person, have, effectively, made a friend. Armed with confidence that ‘I’ have integrity, am honest and a bona-fide member of this new iCafe Community, you decided to explore further. Perhaps we, across Zoom link or similar, arrange to actually ‘meet’ over a coffee. We bring our own coffee, of course. But look out for Amazon shipping seriously good coffee by drone at this point in the near-future.
Now we really talk. You’re interested in my new Sci-fi ‘book’ about how our master genes really came from outer space, and I’m fascinated by the work you’ve done on a little known but influential character in Jane Seymour’s family – about to be turned into a Zoom play.
Now this may seem like an awful lot of work to sell one book or play. But… One of the reasons this works is that I don’t know, yet, that you’ve got ten thousand followers until we’re having that drone-shipped coffee and are already friends. You are tired of being digitally abused and the avatar system prevents that. You can get to the reality of someone you like the sound of very quickly. And your delight in life is to meet and befriend ‘real’ people.
You’re happy that we both are genuine. I offer you a free digital copy of my book because I know that a good fraction of ten thousand people might just be interested. In turn, I appreciate that reading my book is a major investment in time for such a busy and successful person, but you assure me that, for the right friend, it’s fine.
The book isn’t on Amazon and it never has been. It’s in your iCafe Format, which is based on a new world public standard, but encrypted so that only those with the second part of the key (the buyers) can continue to read it beyond the trial period, when, in the spirit of ‘mission impossible’, it normally self-destructs. Because I trust you, I grant you a digital ‘key’ that allows you to send out a certain number of trial chapters to your other friends, possibly thousands of them.
I think about this and order you a drone-delivered latte of the best quality to say thank you. We have become friends, and time will show that we are two people in an increasingly enabled world-wondered-web of trusted iCafe Communities who continue to own their own stuff.
Scammers, con-persons and scumbags still exist, but they will be finding it harder to get anywhere as the AI possessed by the iCafe Circles learns from its experience… and patterns their demise.
Amazon will have moved out of books, but will own all the food we eat. And the world’s best coffee. Some you win…
©Stephen Tanham 2021
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.