It’s been a few months now that I’ve been interviewing Paper.li publishers (yes, I’m lucky with my day job). Today I was on a slow boat across a lake for a couple of hours (lucky again). Looking at water makes me reflective: it’s as if the surface is mirroring my thoughts. I was musing about the publishers I’ve interviewed — the striking diversity of characters who I’ve met on email or Skype or Twitter — and how all of them have found a reason to become a publisher.
- It started off with Brendon, kitesurfing enthusiast
- Then there was Kate, an educator
- Elliot, who just loves fishing;
- Lawrence, who coded his own dating website for smart single people and met his girlfriend along the way;
- Gerrit, a mine of information on all things digital curation;
- Michel, challenging the Western economic model;
- Philippe, who convinced me about file-sharing;
- Maria, who made friends among Jane Austen-lovers around the world;
- and all the others who have been more than willing to talk about how and why they publish a Paper.li.
On the face of it, they have nothing in common. But hold on. There is one thing: they all have something to say, and they are saying it by curating — not writing — content.
The more I browse curators’ and publishers’ content — not just on Paper.li, but everywhere someone takes the trouble to collate it — the more I see there’s a publisher in all of us. Who hasn’t got a story to tell? Who hasn’t got a passion for something? Who hasn’t got a cause to espouse?
Bye-bye to the old boy network
Not so long ago, if you wanted to publish or be published you had to get into the rather elitist mainstream media (elitist in that only a very few people could get a job). To get bylines, either you needed to be very well-connected and be commissioned by an old school or university chum, or you had to claw your way to the top of the heap. Or, if you were wealthy enough, you could fund some kind of vanity publishing vehicle.
Only a few could experience the immense satisfaction of putting together a publication — selecting the stories or features, crafting the headlines, choosing the images, playing with the design, seeing a woman in a café reading the headline you wrote.
Then blogs made publishing more accessible. But only if you had the time and ability to produce original content. Blogging, I’ve now found out, is like feeding a voraciously hungry beast that gobbles ideas faster than I can think of them.
Publishing as a curator is less of a slog (although that’s not to say you can do it without thought and care). Paper.li, my other favourite Scoop.it, and tools aplenty offer the pleasure and fulfillment of creating a publication to everybody. You don’t have to pound out blog posts. You don’t need any cash. All you need is something to say, the desire to say it, and some time.
What I also love is that in publishing for pleasure you don’t have to worry about getting readers or subscribers or followers or friends or advertising. In old-school publishing, you had to make money or be funded by a proprietor with deep pockets. This need to pay for paper, ink, big shiny glass buildings, fleets of lorries etc. almost always dictated what could be published, narrowing the world view.
Who cares if I’m the only reader?
Nowadays you might publish just for yourself. I do. I can’t image for a moment too many people wanting to read the particular mélange of content that appears in my main Paper.li, Create and Curate. I have the grand total of three subscribers. Of course I hope that people doing similar work to me might be interested, and if I see a really good story there I tweet about it. But mostly it’s a collection of stuff to do with my work as a writer/editor/apprentice blogger/curator that I like to browse when I have a minute.
Who cares if you’re the only person on the planet who wants to read news about hiking in Michigan or knitting or elephant garlic or your fencing club or bees in art, or… see what I mean? Publishing this way costs nothing in monetary terms so it doesn’t have to generate a financial or measurable return on investment. The return is your pleasure in seeing your newspaper take shape and in browsing it.
On the other hand, you can cultivate a followership if you want to: if your publication is designed to promote your business or not-for-profit organisation, or if you’re sharing information with friends or like-minded people, or if you want to use it to help build your reputation as a knowledgeable source on a topic. It’s a matter of choice.
Who’s the publisher in you?