State of the Writopshere

A few weekends ago I came across this article in the Independent on Sunday (thanks to a tweet from Professor Sue Thomas). The article itself trotted out the cliches on ebooks, with John Walsh saying "[ebook] callowness makes you weep" and hence we go back to dead wood fetishes and the boredom of square one in the great ebook debate. The usual suspects- Nicholas Carr, Sven Birkerts- were quoted arguing that in the 21st century nobody reads War and Peace anymore because our brains are too withered, our attention spans too shot and fractured, to even care about the notional existence of great literature and that we would rather consume endless amounts of intellectual junk food like social networking sites and crap TV. Ok then. Like, whatever. More interesting were the opinions offered by various commentators at the end of the article.  One however caught my eye for the wrong reasons. Andrew Cowan, a lecturer on the UEA's famous Creative Writing MA was talking about the attitudes of his students to digital publishing. Here are some quotes:

- "As a student 20 years ago, I did the MA that I now teach in prose fiction and I see no change in the approach and ambitions of my own students to that of me and my peers back then."

- "Ahead of this interview, I talked to them about digitisation and not one of them had heard of Twitter, and they were all hostile to the idea of e-books."

- "None of them keeps a blog, though one admitted sheepishly that she'd started one, and the others were all smirking about it. This is the new generation of writers."

Whoa. It is frankly bizarre that this school boy attitude runs rampant on a course designed to foster creativity. Not only does it show a woeful lack of imagination, vision and sense of possibility in different forms and genres of writing but it also shows an utterly and foolishly blinkered attitude to the modern business of publishing.

Cowan says "Their ambition is to be on sale in high-street bookshops and published in book form by a mainstream publisher", yet they seemed to think that a luddite view on blogging, ebooks and new media generally is clever in a climate where publishing is become increasingly engaged with and reliant on digital marketing strategies, and where authors (especially debut authors) are expected to be actively involved with promotion of their books.  Their thoughts on writing seem to extend to getting published- but not actually selling any books. In the current retail climate this is possibly unwise.

The technorati State of the Blogosphere 2008 report makes fascinating reading in contrast. Outlining how blogs and blogging have become, in the words of Joicih Ito, "a global main-stream activity", it describes a flourishing and heterogeneous media landscape. It makes cleaer that as with books there are countless kinds of blogs, from personal diaries to rich news sites; as with books the potential for creativity and communication is near limitless.  Decent traffic figures right down the tail and the widespread potential for monetizing blogs both stood out to me as examples of how blogging remains a viable platform for publishing.

While some aspiring novelists spurn blogging others are making a success of it.  Think of people like Alison Norrington or Scott Sigler who have used blogging technologies to tell and promote their novels.  While many people cherish the opinion that their unique vision stands out the sheer mass of the estimated 188 million blogs seems to curl the lips and spike the arrogance of those who can't see that this is now part of the writosphere as much as scribbling sestinas and neo-Freudian meditations on childhood.

Creative writing is as much about tweeting and posting on blogs as anything; or if not then it will be, or at least, if writers accept the challenge, could be. The novel to was once seen as a rather shabby medium, not fit for the Augustan literary elite.

Times changed.

Short Fiction in the Age of the Ebook

A guest blog today from Tor UK author Gary Gibson (check out his latest book Stealing Light).  Having acquired a Sony Reader Gary muses on a possible renaissance in short form fiction. This post was originally posted on Gary's blog, White Screen of Despair.  So without further ado... To my surprise, I'm reading more short fiction since I got the Sony Reader than I have in years, mainly because of two factors; short pieces make for a nice occasional break from a full-length work, and I've found quite a lot of sf anthologies for sale online at quite a bit less than they'd cost me if I bought physical copies of them from a bookshop. The same goes for some novels as well. This is a bit ironic, since I recently commented on a Tor.com article that I didn't read short fiction any more because I couldn't find anything to read.

I recently bought Year's Best SF 13 for just under £3.50 from a US store - it was either BooksonBoard.com or Fictionwise.com. The current exchange rate between the US and the UK, obviously, helps a lot. But you get a lot of fiction for your buck. Next in line will likely be a new collection called Seeds of Change, available for about the same price. That's not to say they're all bargains - I bought the ebook of Ray Kurzweil's The Singularity is Near, ostensibly for research, and that cost me well over a tenner, which hurt. But I've got it now, and the site I bought it from had a rebate that allowed me to pick up a copy of Asimov's (short fiction again) virtually for free. Interzone and Black Static can similarly be had as virtual editions.

A new collection of short fiction by Chris Beckett, whose The Holy Machine I rated very highly here some time ago, is also out, in both paperback and virtual edition, from Elastic Press. I'll be getting the virtual edition sometime in the next couple of weeks, and I note with pleasure that the ebook of The Holy Machine can be had for the equivalent of about three and a half quid again. Considerably cheaper than the edition I bought at a convention, which cost me about a tenner. If you own an ebook reader and you're looking for something to read, you could do an awful lot worse. It would be nice, of course, if some of the other books I'd really like to buy - Jay Lake's Mainspring, for example - were available in electronic format. But hopefully it and others will be someday.

There's a potentially very positive aspect to ebooks in relation to short fiction I hadn't previously considered. Publishers rarely produce collections of short fiction in meaningful numbers any more because they long ago ceased to be cost-effective; much of my early reading was done through the medium of collections by well-known sf authors that would be deemed financially unworthy in the modern age.

Yet without the requirement for printing, binding and shipping, it would be nice to think that short fiction collections could achieve some kind of rebirth in the age of the ebook. Although there are certainly authors such as Beckett and quite a few others with collections out, these tend to come from smaller, specialist presses and thereby both cost more, have smaller print-runs and are harder to find. Ebook publication, I think, places such collections in a better position to be found by the right audience. It certainly means an extra potential revenue source for any author who's had, say, a dozen or so stories professionally published and would like to be able to bundle them in an e-format.

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.

Bloglishing? Part 1

Apologies for another dubious neologism (ok, one usage already indexed by Google). We've had so many, why stop now? Aside from being a slightly, er, clunky name "bloglishing" captures a concept that I've recently been interested in; namely the different ways a blog is actually published. Blogs are popularly thought of as quintessential self publishing, the implication being that there is no, or very little, intermediary between the content creation and consumption. Of course even within traditional self publishing there is a huge amount of intermediation of one kind or another, ranging from a simple model like Lulu to more complex schemes of vanity publishing that come with certain services.

However this very obviously fails to describe the intricacy and diversity within blogging, fails to account for differing platforms and differing scales of audience, as well as different models of collaboration on or syndicating the content itself. I would suggest that all blogs are to some extent published, with differing layers of "publication" that apply to different blogs. These layers are by no means mutually exclusive and many blogs could be included in more than one layer.

What might these layers of blog publishing look like?

1) The Technological Layer

Most fundamentally all blogs have a grounding in the structure of the internet e.g. are enabled and run through the protocols, code and network that form the basis of the web. In this way blogs might be said to be "afforded" by the internet, in the same way that novels were afforded by the printing of books, and that the production of paper. Above this though most blogs are not built from scratch, rather they will rely on a platform like WordPress (upon which this blog is based). Hence at we might say that services like Blogger, Live Journal, Typepad and WordPress are the publishers of blogs. They provide the tools by which the words, pictures etc are communicated from ready made back end CMS's to familiar CSS templates for the easy reception of the content. A print analogy would position Blogger, say, as somewhere between a self publisher and a printers; Blogger does not associate itself with the content in the same way that most publishers would be. However in that these technologies- from http to WordPress plug ins- have enabled the existence of blogs, they can be considered to publish them.

2) The Blogging Brand Layer

Returning to the example of Blogger most blogs found there will not have a large audience and will not have anything that approaches the blogging brand of someone like Gawker Media or Boing Boing. Gawker has a host of blogs so that we would see it as a holding brand in the same way Channel 4 is now the overarching brand for a number of channels and other media services. Looking at the Technorati Top 100 blogs one sees a litany of brand names that transcend the content itself: The Huffington Post, Techcrunch, Ars Technica etc. Just as a magazine is split between the editor, who manages the content, and a publisher, who is responsible for the business aspects of the magazine, so these blogs can be viewed as having editors and publishers. Even if these are the same person, the functions are distinct. What I am arguing then is that the Gawker blogs (Lifehacker, Valleywag, IO9 etc) are published by Gawker as much as any newspaper is published by the media organisation it forms part of. The blog native brand forms an intermediary layer- a layer akin to publishing.

3) The Publishing Brand Layer

Take Comment is Free on Guardian Unlimited. Take this blog or the Picador blog. Both are examples of where a traditional publishing operation extends that operation into blogging, using the reputation, the brand, to "publish" the blog and hence imbue it with the ethos and (one hopes) the authority of the original publisher. It's not just publishers who can do this though- other brands can use blogs and become publishers. The point really is that the blog is underwritten by an existing institution in the sense that the content is validated by that institution. When we or another publisher publishes a book we giving it our stamp of approval- the publisher or record company logo on a work says we think this is good, worthwhile, we are associated with this product and are backing it. The same applies for blogs when they are an extension of an organisation's usual activity.

Demarcating these different modes of blog publication is useful for a traditional publisher as it highlights what kind of role blogging could have within that institution. By looking at the ways in which other companies or institutions have interpolated themselves in the blogging chain, we can begin to see the ways an existing capacity for publishing could be harnessed to greatly extend that capacity into the blogosphere. So- how can publishers bloglish? (And yes, I am cringing even as I write it.)

To be continued...

Observing Change

In Sunday's Observer it was announced that the long serving literary editor, Robert McCrum, was to stand down. He talks about how publishing has changed, how the clubby atmosphere of yesteryear has given way to the blazing lights of the corporate future. In ten "chapters" he gives us some of the big changes and events of the past decade, from the emergence of writers like Zadie Smith to the increasing importance of the literary festival. Of McCrum's ten great changes three are connected to the internet: Amazon, the growth of blogging and the Kindle. Each represents a separate strand of the multiple connections between publishing and the web, but each succinctly emphasizes how fully entwined they have become.

Upon reading the piece Sara sent the following dispatch from her holiday:

"Overall this is a very thought-provoking and thorough overview, but I think his observations on the digital side of things are shallow - and plain wrong in places.

For example - the bit about authors finding their voices but not an audience. It misses the point entirely that the Web can transform and accelerate the word-of-mouth phenomenon. And that the web enables users to 'vote' what becomes popular - not just through organised schemes like Amazon's but generally - because of search engine algorithms and because of email forwarding and because of social networking etc etc.

Also I can't believe anyone is still talking about an iPod moment for books and I don't know who informed his statement that this is widely expected this autumn. Goes back to your hyping thing, Michael.

Basically he seems to say that digital is significant but then not say why. The big thing is marketing opportunities not downloads - and the fact that it this is no longer just a corporate push environment. That publishers need to engage where the conversation is going on between authors and readers. Do I sound like a stuck record?"

Which pretty much sums it up (and don't worry Sara, its not a stuck record situation!)

One thing that got me was McCrum's resurrection of the whole blogging debate. I always find it riles me when people bring up the whole "blogs vs. reviewing" thing. It just seems churlish, the last whine from an old monopoly worried that the fig leaf of "special insight" is about to drop away. "My view is that the Common Reader generates more heat than light" he writes. Book bloggers are aware of how they fit into an ecosystem of literary comment, but the literary pages seem to disdain any "amateur" effort.

However what makes a professional book reviewer? What qualities would fundamentally distinguish them from the amateur? Ok so there maybe distinctions and there are many fine book reviewers, but ultimately literary journalism is, I think, less objective and rigorously policed than it pretends in the blog debate. As someone who has experienced both blogging and the literary pages of a newspaper I would say there is space for both, without the mutual denigration and suspicion.

Telling Stories

story.jpgChances are that if your reading this blog you will have come across Penguin's grands projets, We Tell Stories. In case you haven't (where have you been?) its six digital stories and an ARG from Penguin UK and Six to Start, a funky start up that builds cool games. Enough has been said, for and against, in terms of content and conception but this piece on blog powerhouse Gawker got me thinking. Its hard to know exactly what Penguin's criterion of success in this project is- it must have cost a bomb and has no obvious revenue stream. As for traffic figures, I haven't clue. In terms of coverage I think it can definitely be considered a success and has been featured in Newsweek, USA Today and Wired amongst others despite the ARG being a UK only affair. If nothing else it has introduced many people to a new way of storytelling and pioneered digital fiction in mainstream publishing.

Gawker don't seem to like this. In the louche style characteristic of the site(s) they ask: "There's got to be a better way for publishers to get people to read more books... using actual books. Um, right?" Um, no. Because I don't think Penguin were trying to get people to read more books.

Jeremy Ettinghausen, the man behind the project and new found web celebrity, has specifically stated that the project is not about print, in fact quite the reverse, saying to Newsweek "[ebooks] are pretty much the same thing as the print book but delivered in a different way. We thought we'd try something a little more ambitious and actually develop stories designed for the Internet, not adapted to it." Rather than being about books this is specifically about moving away from them.

Fair enough. As the name suggests this is part of a view that sees publishers not just as creators of books but as curators of stories. Had this attitude been more prevalent over the past few hundred years no doubt that the media landscape would look very different today. Opportunities missed from film to gaming might have been taken and a more integrated approach to narrative entertainment prevailed.

When Gawker say "[they] have a new project to tell the stories of books online — using new media, get it? " it's the sneer of a new media company suddenly fearful that its very cutting edge newness is getting eroded by so called old media companies keen to redefine exactly what that means. Gawker suggest that they read books to get away from the internet- something I can sympathise with- but publishers are still well poised to make entertaining interventions on the web, using capacities built up from the book world to find new species of storytelling.

Publishing, in some areas at least, has been hit hard by the web. Take maps. Why buy a map when Google Maps is free? And better? The 21 Steps was an inventive use of Google Maps that in some small way marked a kind of reclamation of the space. Ok, it might not do anything in itself, but it points to a future where publishers can more than just co-exist with the web, aloof new media neighbors or no. For me that has to be a good thing.

Meanwhile you can watch the ARG evolve on the unfiction boards- as good as playing for those with no time, I tell myself.

Photo: 16/06/06 Dramatis Personae by Andrew Coulter Enright

the uses of blogging

Michael and I have been talking through ideas for posts on this blog about blogging itself. These discussions range quite widely and you can expect some challenging words from Michael in due course. I had a strong feeling, however, that I wanted to start the discussion around the theme of the uses of blogging – by which I mean the actual practical uses that people put this radically accessible self-publishing platform to. And my mind settled easily on Maxine Clarke, who is a friend and colleague at Nature Publishing Group, and with whom I’ve had a blogging connection for over two years now, as representative of this theme.

Maxine’s primary personal blog – Petrona – was a Typepad Featured Blog a year ago, and I think the reviewer exposed the brilliant core of Maxine’s experience of blogging: “Maxine has been a science journal editor for most of her working life, but in reading Petrona it can seem like she was reborn once she became a blogger. It started as an experiment, but then became substantially meaningful to her, if not her favorite personal pursuit. She is blown away by the power of connection in the international community of bloggers, and is open when pondering the collective blogging life: "Perhaps the effects will be similar to the society-changing effect of mass introduction of TV. This new power, however arises from not only being a mass media like TV but by being an open, interactive system, controlled at the individual's level; enabled by information technology, not a passive recipient of it. I sometimes wonder what Orwell would have made of it all."

Maxine started poking around with one blog and rapidly engaged with the medium (from authoring best practice and blog etiquette to promotional tricks) and the platforms (increasing her production and technical skills along the way), and now has multiple personal and work blogs running, and uses them each for different purposes.

Maxine has found a number of uses for blogging, and kindly agreed to write an article for The Digitalist, describing these uses, both in her personal and her work life.

In the first part of her article, Maxine highlights how book blogging has enriched her reading life; in the second part, she outlines some of the constructive uses of blogging in her professional capacity.

PART ONE – personal blogging

My experience of blogging is long on the Internet timescale—just over two years. I am not young or frivolous, I have a demanding professional job, I’m a parent and a commuter, so I am always horrendously busy. Yet for those two years I have managed to quarry an hour or so in the evening to read blogs and, most nights, to write a post myself. Why, when I could be doing something more “useful”?

The answer, in my case, is simple. I am, like many of us, “too” busy for anything else. I have neither the time nor the energy to socialise in the evenings, and in any case want to see my children occasionally. I would like to have stimulating discourse with friends or like-minded people, and to find out and discuss new ideas and concepts. Before blogging, these aims seemed impossible to achieve. I don’t want to spend what little leisure time I have passively sitting in front of a TV screen (somebody else deciding what information I receive), or asleep over an open book, which after a hard day tends to happen after half an hour or so.

My first steps at blogging involved creating the website, teaching myself how to make a blogroll and (eventually) tag my posts. I decided to write about books I’d read and films I’d seen, as I was short of creative inspiration and certainly did not want to share with the world my problem toenail or the failings of the coffee machine at work (ants in the drinks). Using an RSS reader and keying in the word “books”, I found some other blogs on similar subjects to mine. I followed the posts and began to get to “know” the bloggers concerned by what they wrote. I dropped some blogs and discovered others, initially from the blogrolls of the ones I liked most. I began to write some posts about similar topics, picking up their points and providing my perspective. It wasn’t long before, to my great excitement, one of them left a comment on my blog. Soon, I was part of an online community.

The core of blogging is, of course, writing posts, reading what other people write, and joining in online conversations in the comments or “back blogs” as they are sometimes called. Once you’re in the swing of it, though, there are lots of directions in which you can go, and many opportunities present themselves, a couple of which I’ll highlight here.

Book reviews. If you are, like me, a bookworm, you will soon stumble across the opportunity to review books for special-interest websites (in my case, Euro Crime) or for book-sharing sites such as the excellent Revish. Even though this activity is not a source of income, it is a rich source of publishers’ review copies of books – with which I am regularly inundated. In my case, my blogging and reviewing have resulted in invitations to book launches, author events, cultural evenings and even reviewing for national newspapers. I was recently invited by a publishing company to a “bloggers’ brunch”, in which I and some other book bloggers had informative conversations with the publishers, editors and each other, about the various uses of the Internet for people who love books, and the impact of the Internet on the book-publishing industry. Many book authors are bloggers: I have had some fascinating online conversations with authors of books I have reviewed online, on all kinds of topics. When one has read a really gripping or involving book, this can be really rather a heady experience.

Sunday Salon. One of my early blogging acquaintances is Debra Hamel, an author and academic who, after having her children, taught herself web programming and now lives in a self-described subterranean lair in New Haven, dreaming up innovative book-related (and puzzle-related) activities on the Internet. One of these inventions is Twitterlit, an extremely popular game in which players have to guess the book whose first line is in a daily Twitter post. (Debra also invented the junior version, Kidderlit.) But for me, the Sunday Salon, the concept of Debra and author-blogger Clare Dudman, is particularly special. Debra’s leap of imagination was to create a blog aggregator for people who like reading – on a Sunday, when many people don’t work and have a little more time than usual. Participating bloggers sign up so that Debra can include them in the aggregator (Yahoo pipes, in fact, but it could be any). Each blogger can post on a Sunday (or any other day, actually) about what he or she is reading: if the post is tagged “sundaysalon” the aggregator picks it up. Other Salonists are doing the same thing, so that you can read each other’s posts on the aggregator page, have conversations, maybe read the same books if you like, or not if you don’t. For the first few weeks, there were about six of us in the group; now, after about 3 months, we are up to about 80, with well-known authors and high-traffic, high-profile bloggers signing up. There is no marketing, no advertising, just a community of people (who live all over the world) with a common interest, who have gathered together for a particular time each week.

These are two highlights of the many reasons why I personally find blogging “useful”. I find it a creative yet social activity, which replenishes the spirit. If you like reading, why not join a reading group, you might ask? Well, one’s reading tastes are not necessarily going to be the same as those of the local reading group – and if they meet on an evening when you have to take a child to a tennis lesson, you’ve missed your chance. The Internet is always there, it is perfect for letting you find those six or seven people in the universe who like the same kinds of books as you, and enabling you to interact freely with them whatever their time zone.

Before I began blogging, I relied on reviews in newspapers and magazines, or on the library for my reading choices. Now, I have been introduced to a whole range of excellent authors. Some of the books are old; others were written in another language some years ago and have only been translated recently; others are published by small presses without big advertising budgets. None of that matters in blogging, we are the “long tail” in action, discussing and recommending books to each other irrespective of marketing hype, but because we think they are good.

PART TWO – work blogging

At Nature Publishing Group, where I work, we and our customers are ideally placed to find blogs useful in interacting with each other. Our customers are our subscribers, our readers, our authors and our peer-reviewers – highly overlapping groups. Some of our blogs feature science news (The Great Beyond) or subject-related news (The Sceptical Chymist): informative and entertaining for readers who want to know the latest in science the minute it happens rather than the day or week, or for those who like to join in conversations with the editors about how to coordinate clinical trials or ways to represent chemical models in the published article in a journal. Some of our blogs, for example Action Potential, also support journal clubs – online discussion of particular scientific papers and their implications.

My own particular experience of company blogging is with authors and peer-reviewers. I was asked to write “why I blog” in late 2007, and my response was:

"My professional blogs... are addressed to a particular group of people: scientists who read, review and publish, or would like to publish, in our journals. Therefore, the style I try to achieve is helpful, informative and stimulating, yet not didactic or dull. I aim to highlight the benefits of publishing at Nature Publishing Group and provide assistance to those wishing to do so, in a way that is not too directly promotional, but which is constructive to authors and interesting to them and other readers, as well as encouraging their feedback. Therefore I write about news concerning journal policies and format, as well as announcements of new journals, projects, conferences and online tools of interest to authors and reviewers. I also highlight when journal content is free for some reason, because this means that the authors of those articles are achieving greater "reach" for their articles (as well as making it possible for more people to read them, by my announcement). I also highlight news from the wider world of science communication, for example about quality indicators (citations tools and impact factors, for example), ethics, peer-review and so on, in the hope of stimulating community discussion of these issues, as this can help us decide on our journals' evolution. Finally, I blog to provide an approachable forum for potential authors to ask questions about our publication policies, and to have them answered quickly in a way that can also benefit others, as they can see the responses."

To provide some context for this statement, it was the case that for many years, if you were a scientist and wanted to publish a paper in a journal, you looked at the guide to authors in a printed issue or on the journal’s website, read the instructions, submitted, and hoped for the best. I have now spent a year and a half creating a blog called Nautilus and writing more than 500 posts in that time, on news and views related to authors and aspiring authors of Nature and the other journals published by our company. The blog has many uses: we can seek scientists’ views on new policies when we are thinking of introducing them. These days, there are many conferences sponsored by (say) the US government or the EU, about data sharing, integrity of images in scientific journals, bioterrorism, to name a few. The editors of our journals have to craft and update policies to which our authors sign up as a condition of publication. The blog, therefore, provides an excellent way to seek advice from our authors, the vast majority of whom are working scientists who don’t attend policy meetings.

Peer to Peer, our blog for peer reviewers and about the peer-review process, has a similar role: in early February, for example, Nature ran an editorial on the possible benefits of a double-blind peer-review system (like most other journals, Nature uses a single-blind system, in which the authors do not know who is reviewing their papers but the reviewers know whose work they are assessing). To date, more than 70 comments had been received on this editorial.