Monday, August 13, 2007

Open Source Religious Publishing -- The New Movable Type?

I attended a gathering about open-source (sometimes known as crowd-sourcing) publishing this past weekend in Ann Arbor, MI. It was convened by David Crumm who is the lead religion writer of the Detroit Free Press. David, and a group of like-minded folks, have had a web presence titled Spirit Scholars for about a year -- you can visit it at http://www.spiritscholars.com/ That effort led them to arrange a gathering last Saturday of publishers (Zondervan, Paraclete, Skylight Paths, and others), writers, web folks, and others (around 65 total) to talk about new ways to connect in a post-modern world where newspapers are dropping their religion specific coverage (i.e. the Dallas Morning News, once one of the leaders in this area now has no specific religion department) and book review sections (or farming them out to AP wire reviews, etc).

Some things that we found out (though they aren't, upon reflection, all that surprising) are that readership of Google News now surpasses the readership of the New York Times and USA Today combined. And that YouTube viewership far surpasses Google News. Beliefnet, according the statistics presented Saturday, has a declining number of viewers and the same is true for the online version of Christianity Today and Gospel.com. Publishers' websites do not seem to be losing ground -- but they're not gaining much either. The top religious sites are by Muslims (4 in the top ten), the LDS (Mormons), and Bible Gateway.

David and his cohorts are going to be setting up a new way for readers and writers to connect called Read The Spirit (visit it at http://www.readthespirit.com/). The event Saturday outlined their vision for this site and the connections and explored 10 principles behind this movement. Since the 10 are available on their website, I won't enumerate them here, other than the first one, which I thought was intriguing -- "It's about the VOICE, not the book..."

One thing their site will do that I find exciting is electronically publish Top Ten lists -- for example, their recommendations of the top ten spirituality books, the top ten inspirational books, etc. There will also be moderated discussion pages about the books.

All of this is, as I understood from the presentation, geared toward cutting through the clutter surrounding getting spiritual wisdom to people.

I had some questions, of course -- coming from my almost always skeptical little brain. And one was -- so, what? So what that You Tube outdraws the New York Times? What is the implication for us as writers and readers? I don't know what other people go to You Tube for, but I know in my case it's usually for silliness such as Will Ferrell parodying George W Bush and the like. I don't go there for book reviews or serious reflective pieces. Not that they aren't there -- it's just that I don't use You Tube for those things and I would like to know who does and how many of them are there? Is this an area writers and publishers ought to be using -- and if so, how do we do it?

Also, if places like Beliefnet.com are in decline, do we know why, considering we hear much about the hunger for spirituality and links to religion in this rather rootless age? What sites are growing and why? What can we, who write so that people will read what we have to say, do to get our words out to people outside of the "traditional" means? I was hoping for more of this sort of thing -- practical advice or thoughtful reflection on these questions -- from the gathering.

Crumm, et al see this new venture as the 21st century version of movable type. That's an intriguing idea and Read the Spirit will be something to watch.
--Brent

1 comment:

MartinK said...

A "year long Manhattan project"? Echoing "events 500 years ago"? Well well, humility doesn't seem to be high on the top ten list, hmm? Just a reality check that the SpiritScholars blog only has six Technorati backlinks (a good measure of internet buzz), four of them from you. I don't want to rain on anyone's parade but TheOoze has 763 backlink and poor declining Beliefnet is over 70,000.

I am glad to see that Christian publishers are trying to be pro-active about publishing shifts but we need to be looking at the success stories. I came to the web when the collectively-run progressive book publishing house I worked at crashed and burned so I have a particular concern that we find real solutions. Quaker book publishing has all but closed down over the last ten years to little fanfare, with only Barclay Press managing to successfully reinvent itself (300 backlinks).

I think the questions you ask are right: how do we reach these new audiences? There's some good gems in some of the Pew Internet reports. I'd love to hear more about what you take out of this "open source religion" metaphor.

Your Friend, Martin @ QuakerRanter