There are three types of people who survive in media: hard workers, sycophants, and the serial failures they both work for who somehow manage to continually find employment despite a reasonably public record of the wreckage they've left behind. Too harsh? Maybe, a bit—some sycophants are arguably hard workers too, and serial failure might not be as easy as the eternally mediocre make it look—but after my own 25+ years surviving in media (and currently in the final throes of a demoralizing corporate bankruptcy), I'm feeling a little cynical.
Since Google Reader shut down back in 2013, there's arguably been no worthy replacement, partly because it helped accelerate the death of the individual blog and relegated RSS feeds to a tertiary distribution channel that most sites barely pay attention to these days. Over the years, I've used an unwieldy combination of Instapaper, Feedly, Twitter lists and Gmail filters (for the most useful email newsletters I subscribe to) to stay connected to my primary sources, and only a handful make the cut heading into 2019—including one social network that became unexpectedly useful in 2018.
In reality, markets consist of human beings and the conversations they have with each other, and those conversations can be messy and involve multiple points of influence. For authors trying to develop an effective and sustainable digital strategy, that means you’re not just competing with similar authors and books for readers’ attention—hello, myopic comp titles!—you’re competing with readers themselves and the various channels they use to connect with each other. With the right strategy, though, you're not competing with anyone—you're authentically engaging with and contributing to a dynamic community.
Enthusiast media, aka niche consumer, is my favorite sector because it prioritizes depth over scale, and its KPIs are different from general consumer media's chasing eyeballs for advertisers. Instead of being dumb pipes driven by vanity metrics and anecdata, they can build self-sustaining communities with deep engagement that offers diversified revenue streams, including valuable intersections for marketing partners seeking strategic, long-term relationships. In its ideal form, enthusiast media (and some B2B verticals) combines community engagement, editorial integrity, and paid content into a diversified suite of relevant products and services which simultaneously minimizes its reliance on advertising while optimizing its effectiveness for savvier marketing partners.
One could reasonably argue there were TOO MANY publishers at the Bookfair when you think about the relatively small markets they cater to for literary fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction, as well as the often myopic focus on a single magazine, ignoring or discounting other ways they could serve their community while ensuring a sustainable future. The relatively low barrier for entry into (and expectations of) literary publishing “let’s people wade in a little over their heads,” as Creative Nonfiction‘s Hattie Fletcher noted during the Literary Innovation session, and many publishers often find themselves living on the brink of insolvency, one time-consuming fundraising pitch away from failure.