The Virtual BookClub

Avid Reader Bookclub 27/03/08

Many years ago, in the late 80s, a mate and I fantasised about creating what we called Virtual Cafés – bars with a large wall that was nothing less than a giant video screen with embedded cameras. The idea was that we could build a network of such cafés around the world, and that instead of having a drink with Joe Sixpack from around the corner, you could have one with Joe Sixpack in Rio. Timezones permitting. I still think it’s a cool idea, but at the time the technology was both inadequate and way too expensive to be anything more than a topic for pubtime speculation.

But today’s a different matter – and last night I was part of a virtual bookclub gathering to chat about my book. The hosts were the Avid Reader bookshop in Brisbane’s West End, and I was in my Coogee study, here in Sydney. It wasn’t quite a virtual café, but it worked well enough – and astoundingly was accomplished with nothing more than our respective Macbooks and a data projector. All we needed was Margaret Atwood’s book signing robot and the future would have been complete 🙂 

Here’s the first five minutes… 
   

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3 comments so far

  1. Rebecca Bloomer on

    Hi Sherman,

    I was there last night…the chicky in the back with no question. Actually most of what I wanted to ask was nerdy academic stuff so thought it best to shut up (have to stifle my inner nerd sometimes).

    I guess what I am interested in firstly, is your idea of building audiences and finding niches as a possible future of books. This would be as a result of audience response mechanisms right? Find your audience, find out what they want/like about your style and play to your strengths. We’re trying to teach journalists this at the moment. Instead of taking the broadcasting approach of top down instructions where execs decide what audiences should want to watch/engage with, we’re encouraging our students to go outside, observe people, find audiences and ask them what they want and how they prefer to consume their media. Kind of going backwards to narrowcasting in order to maintain the integrity of journalism…much the way you suggest losing the object to maintain the integrity of the book!

    I also thought your comment on ‘displacement’ rather than ‘replacement’ was interesting. That’s another thing we’re observing in general media outlets at the moment isn’t it? Most media corps can’t be sure of the way of the future, so they’re providing everything for everyone (multiple formats of the same story) in order to allow the audience to decide which they prefer. Eventually some will be replaced by a progressive process of displacement.

    Congrats on the success of the virtual book chat. Turned out great and everyone went home happy!

  2. shermanfyoung on

    Hi Rebecca

    Thanks for coming along. And not asking any questions 🙂

    I’m totally with you wrt niches, with a couple of reservations. Firstly, I’m not the biggest fan of only giving people what they want – some of the best stuff comes out of a more single-minded notion of what the creator wants to create. So there’s probably a need to balance the ideas of the audience, with your own. Again, the web allows that to happen – throw something out there, people will respond, engage in the conversation… And hopefully in the brave new world, every niche is big enough to find a reasonable community (?!)

    Of course, that’s an argument about ideas and content – I think you’re dead right when it comes to asking audiences about ‘platforms’ or how/where they’d like to read/watch/engage.

    Secondly, different media do different things – so we can’t expect all writing, or all journalism, or all music/movies/whatever to play entirely to niches. There’s going to be some balancing act happening, and it’s a dynamic thing that will probably work differently in different fields. Especially since the ‘narrowcasting’ stuff goes hand in hand with the ‘prosumer’ and participatory media stuff.

    I’d like to think that there’s room for a huge diversity of possible media forms engagements, and that we’ll eventually work out a way that we can all make a living from it. Notwithstanding that all of it should be subject to piercing and analysis and critique from folks like us!! But then, that’s just the sort of optimistic bloke I am.

    Glad you all enjoyed the virtual chat, I had fun – but must get better makeup and more sympathetic lighting at my end next time ;0

  3. Rebecca Bloomer on

    LOL…yep! Was joking to my friend last night “if I’d known, I’d have made more of an effort with my hair!”

    Love the idea of multiple formats and enough space for everyone to do their thing. Think the empowering thing about asking audiences how they consume etc is that it enables diversity (and as biologists like me know, there is enormous strength in diversity). A diversity that is not greatly available at the moment.

    As to the idea of niches, my little academic friend across the hall believes you should give them whatever they want. I asked “But what if I don’t know what I want?” For example, I never understood why I would want the internet connected to my fridge (unless it does a regular stocktake and orders from an online grocery store, thereby reducing my need for lists and shopping). However, we have an open kitchen/lounge design in the house and the Playstation connects to the internet. LOL…so every now and then I will google up a recipe, have it sit on the t.v. and cook while I read it from there. I didn’t know I wanted that until I realised it could happen!

    Have you heard of ‘television without pity’? It’s a fan fiction, blog thing…very interesting mechanism and a little bit disconcerting. I’m still deciding how I feel about it!

    Oh and there’s no need for makeup when one is holding a beer and promoting a book…the look speaks for itself!


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