Robert Silvers: Toward a "New Form of Criticism"

At New York Magazine, the great journalist Mark Danner talks at length with The New York Review of Books’ Robert Silvers. Here’s one bit about online publishing and social media, which strikes me not as fuddy-duddy, but very considered:

To tweet or not to tweet. And not to tweet is to be left behind.
And that raises a question: What is this? What are the kinds of prose, and the kinds of thinking, that result from the imposition of the tweet form and other such brief reactions to extremely complex realities? My feeling is that there are millions and millions if not billions of words in tweets and blogs, and that they are not getting and will not get the critical attention that prose anywhere should have unless we find a new form of criticism.

If a novel is published, we have a novel review. If poetry is produced, if a play or a movie or a TV show is produced, there are the forms of criticism we know. With the new social media, with much of the content of the Internet, there are very few if any critical forms that are appropriate. They are thought to be somewhere partially in a private world. Facebook is a medium in which privacy is, or at least is thought to be, in some way crucial. The premise, at least, is that of belonging to a family, a circle of friends. And there’s another premise, that any voice should have its moment. And so there seems a resistance to intrusive criticism.

But this means that billions of words go without the faintest sign of assessment. And yet, if one cares about language, if one cares about the sensibility in which language is expressed, and if one cares about the values that underlie our use of language, such as affection, privacy, honesty, cogency, clarity—then these media, it would seem to me, should qualify as the subject of criticism. We seem at the edge of a vast, expanding ocean of words, an ocean growing without any critical perspective whatever being brought to bear on it. To me, as an editor, that seems an enormous absence.

FT and the "Finite Read"

From Folio’s “FT Relaunches Web App”:

One of the biggest changes is offering readers both a static version of the morning paper along with a dynamically updated version that automatically updates throughout the day. “The big learning for us with the first app is how important the concept of a finite read is,” says Steve Pinches,’s group product manager. “Readers love the idea of starting with the FT in the morning and reading it all the way through, which is quite a different concept than on the web. It’s quite a balancing act because we also have a lot of more digitally savvy users who need that ongoing, up-to-the-minute coverage.”

Interesting point about readers who like to finish a thing, even a digital thing. I get it. (There’s a parallel here to why infinite scroll isn’t always appreciated.)

The Dish's Readers

At The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf recalls his days working for Team Sullivan:

At The Daily Dish, I once asked readers in advance of a road trip across The South what I should see. I didn’t just get hundreds of suggestions; I didn’t just get extended essays on the geography, sociology, and competing styles of barbecue that characterize the region; I didn’t just get notes from people in eleven states; I also got invitations to stay overnight with Dish readers in a dozen cities, or to stop by for dinner at the houses of their parents, or to please write if I passed through where they live so they could at the very least buy me a cold beer. I was just a guest blogger. I don’t doubt that Sullivan could live rent free for five years if he asked nicely.

Craig Mod: "Subcompact Publishing"

An important and insightful essay. I hope Mod writes a part two that looks a bit more at how exactly (to continue his metaphor) the small vehicles would get made. 

Related: Mod’s round-up of coverage of his essay. This Jim Ray piece from the Mule blog isn’t on there, but I think it’s worth reading.

"Small Presses & Self-Publishers: Enemies? Or Half-Siblings?"

Interesting piece by Sean Bishop in the VQR blog. (And yes, I agree with this sentiment, and not just for literary publishers, but other groups in the arts: “There is still a contingent of presses and publishers who bristle at the idea of ‘branding,’ 'marketing’ and the lot. Stop it…. They (you) need to get over that. I mean, seriously: you’re a publisher, not a religion.”)

Marco's "The Magazine"

Really looking forward to checking out this new iOS magazine from Marco Arment. From his announcement:

But just as the App Store has given software developers a great new option for accepting direct payment, Newsstand has given publishers an even bigger opportunity with subscription billing and prominent placement. Yet most publishers aren’t experimenting with radical changes. They can’t — to fund their huge staffs and production costs, they can’t afford to deviate from yesterday’s model. And most individual writers can’t, won’t, and shouldn’t make their own Newsstand apps.

There’s room for another category between individuals and major publishers, and that’s where The Magazine sits. It’s a multi-author, truly modern digital magazine that can appeal to an audience bigger than a niche but smaller than the readership of The New York Times. This is what a modern magazine can be, not a 300 MB stack of static page images laid out manually by 100 people.

David Carr on Atlantic Media's David G. Bradley

From the NYT profile:

What is the way forward for a 155-year old-magazine that once published Emerson and Longfellow? Digital first and last, with ancillary revenue from conferences. The magazine, edited by James Bennet, is still very much in the middle of the conversation, but these days it is prized mostly for bringing luster to digital assets like, Atlantic Wire, Atlantic Cities, and beginning Monday, Quartz.

And later: 

“It’s become very, very clear to me that digital trumps print, and that pure digital, without any legacy costs, massively trumps print,” Mr. Bradley said.

Not positive that’ll work for everyone, but The Atlantic company sure has seen some success the past few years.

"Lessons For Building A Tablet Magazine That's Actually Worth Using"

From Co.Design:

The New Yorker has seen success with its relatively straightforward digital edition, but there’s nothing that really differentiates it from the print version, except maybe that it’ll save you the embarrassment of having a tower of unread issues on your nightstand.

Aside from poet-spoken poems? Videos? Supplemental documents? Slideshows of artworks? Movie clips?

This suggestion (even made in slight jest) — that only futuristic interactive material counts as worthwhile tablet content — gives me the blues. 

Craig Mod: "Hack the Cover"

As ever, Mod offers smart, forward-looking thoughts on books and publishing. His central question:

[I]f so much of what book cover design has evolved into is largely a brick-and-mortar marketing tool, then what place does a ‘cover’ hold in digital books? Especially after you purchase it? But, more tellingly, even before you purchase it? 

If you’re interested in the questions, you’ll be interested in the entire essay. Recommended.

Tim Parks Defends E-Books

At the New York Review of Books blog, a refreshingly contrarian post:

The e-book, by eliminating all variations in the appearance and weight of the material object we hold in our hand and by discouraging anything but our focus on where we are in the sequence of words (the page once read disappears, the page to come has yet to appear) would seem to bring us closer than the paper book to the essence of the literary experience. Certainly it offers a more austere, direct engagement with the words appearing before us and disappearing behind us than the traditional paper book offers, giving no fetishistic gratification as we cover our walls with famous names. It is as if one had been freed from everything extraneous and distracting surrounding the text to focus on the pleasure of the words themselves. In this sense the passage from paper to e-book is not unlike the moment when we passed from illustrated children’s books to the adult version of the page that is only text. This is a medium for grown-ups.

Nicholas Carr: "Why publishers should give away ebooks"

Kind of. 

Readers today are forced to choose between buying a physical book or an ebook, but a lot of them would really like to have both on hand - so they’d be able, for instance, to curl up with the print edition while at home (and keep it on their shelves) but also be able to load the ebook onto their e-reader when they go on a trip. In fact, bundling a free electronic copy with a physical product would have a much bigger impact in the book business than in the music business. After all, in order to play vinyl you have to buy a turntable, and most people aren’t going to do that. So vinyl may be a bright spot for record companies, but it’s not likely to become an enormous bright spot. The only technology you need to read a print book is the eyes you were born with, and print continues, for the moment, to be the leading format for books. If you start giving away downloads with print copies, you shake things up in a pretty big way.

I’ve daydreamed about this before. Would enjoy seeing it happen. (I had no clue, by the way, that vinyl-record buyers like Carr are indeed scoring free digital copies of the music.)