Bloglishing? Part 2

Blogging is the signature written form of our age, indeed is arguably the most widespread and popular form of published words that has ever existed. Bracketing the arguments about noise to signal ratios, self indulgence and wild proliferation blogging is now a fact of the written word as much as letters, novels, newspapers and emails.  In Part 1 I argued that blogging was a publishable activity and that by recognizing this publishers can become more responsive to a range of opportunities therein. Like what?

Let's firstly discount the technological layer. Whilst this is where the most value in blogs has and will continue to come from it is beyond the scope of even the most technologically ambitious publishers as a scalable or sellable platform.  Just as publishers are distinct from printers, so publishers are unlikely to have the resource or in-house skills to create the next Blogger. This is not to say that publishers will not, or do not, build up blogs from scratch however.  What publishers can do is effectively leverage existing models for their own ends with a splash of custom CSS and a bit of development.

We then move to the idea of a blog as a published brand in and of itself.  Increasingly "old media" companies have seen themselves moving into the blog, or at least new media arena, through acquisitions.  For example global magazine publisher Conde Nast has acquired bookmarking site Reddit, the Wired digital archipelago, developer site Web Monkey and the popular tech blog Ars Technica amongst others.  A related activity in book terms might be the creation of (bad neologism alert, again) blooks- the book of the blog. A famous example would be Blood, Sweat and Tea by paramedic Tom Reynolds, published by blooks specialists and recent Harpercollins acquisition The Friday Project.

Essentially blogging brands are being repurposed to form part of wider organizations. Just as most of the old independent publishing houses have been subsumed into the corporates yet retained a unique identity, so publishers of all kinds can see the value in investing in new publishing ventures, e.g. blogs.

Within organisations blogs can be built up. This then occupies an intermediate publishing space between being a net-natively published blog and being a brand extension, yet can offer a lot of value. The digitalist started in this way as a notice board on digital issues and several divisions of Macmillan use this type of blog as a news service. The real value is that it offers a quick way for news to be disseminated and is contributable to from multiple sources.

An outward facing version of this nature would be typified by the blog of our erstwhile CEO: the Charkin Blog. Or the current digitalist. These are blogs that come from people in an industry, under a brand, being published as commentary around the issues within the field.  Related, but distinct, would be a blog such as the Picador blog, or even a project like Hamish Hamilton's Five Dials, that publishes content clustered around a brand. Many UK publishers produce blogs that exist somewhere on this spectrum from the purely academic and commentary to the marketing and content driven: Penguin, HarperCollins, Canongate, Orbit to name just a few. Our sister company Nature has evolved an interesting ecosystem of blogs and tools too extensive for me to describe here.

The overarching syllogism here is that publishers of all stripes are involved in communication and hence should be experts. Blogs are communication.  You do the math, as they say. What the above demonstrates is that publishers have been.

However there are other ways of looking at things. In some ways the blook is a retroactive measure: blogs are built on online for on-screen consumption and much is lost in the transition to paper. They are innately updateable and malleable, both exquisitely short yet without end.  In Penguin's recent We Tell Stories experiment the second story, Slice, used a combination of fictional blogs and Twitter streams to tell the story of London immigrant, Lisa.  Written by well established novelist Toby Litt it demonstrates how publishers can use blogging for narrative as much as news.

At Pan we have recently launched Shadows of the Apt. This blog coincides with the publication of Empire in Black and Gold, a new fantasy novel by Adrian Tchaikovsky.  Shadows of the Apt is the name of the series of which Empire in Black and Gold forms the first part; as the series progresses so does the blog, and hence the two exist as twin elements in a whole. To further the integration between the two the blog will act as an extension of the book's content. So art works, short stories, elements of the history and ethnography, maps, web comics will be posted over time that complement the main novels. On top of this it is envisaged that user generated content will start going up as the series gathers pace, bringing readers more closely into the world.

As a concept then the Shadows of the Apt blog is a departure in publishing terms as it seeks to view blogs as part of the general content stream produced by a publishing company that works in a constant dialogue with the books. In that sense then the blog could be viewed as another published product.

Publishers are brands, but much more than that they publish brands. We can, I think, expect this to apply to blogs and the many ways in which they can be published.