‘digi.lit’ conference highlights positive outlook of digital publishing

Sasha Chebil/Staff

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As he is a key representative from digital press beside three panelists still dedicated to printed works, it came as no surprise that Jon Fine, the director of Author and Publishing Relations for Amazon, received the brunt of the snide comments dealt at digi.lit, Litquake’s first digital literary conference.

The conference aimed to demystify the rapidly developing realm of digital publishing by featuring panels consisting of authors (both self-published and those represented by large houses), publishers and booksellers of both print and digital works. By juxtaposing their expectedly opposing views on the future of the industry, it became clear that all are surprisingly optimistic for the future of the publishing industry and the rising dependency on e-books. This panel on “The Future of Publishing” — in which moderator Brad Stone expressed the optimism in the absence of a question mark after the title — included Fine, the endearing Isaac Fitzgerald from McSweeney’s, a local publishing house and Charlie Winton of Counterpoint Press.

Fitzgerald was the first to curtail the potential animosity, noting his confidence about the future of the field and recognizing that it is “incredibly arrogant to think we’re the generation to crash storytelling.” Though Amazon and the e-book industry as a whole are typically discredited due to their low author salaries and occasional lack of quality, Fitzgerald maintains that he cannot “knock something” that allows authors to earn some money from their works denied by traditional publishing.

Amazon and the development of the e-book should be looked as a “proliferation of opportunity” to both produce and consume information rather than a destruction of the publication industry. Fine convinced the audience that with digital publications, “everybody and anybody can be an author.” The switch to digital publishing reduces the reliance on publishing companies, allowing for increased information on the market and giving readers more options.

However, when Stone asked Winton if he would be comfortable living in a world in which Amazon occupies “every square of the publishing chess board,” the tone shifted from one of cordiality to hostility. Winton moved from his rather passive acceptance of Fine’s claims to question what Amazon is doing to “promote the value” of intellectual property and its cost and creation. Fine assured Winton that Amazon does not devalue intellectual property from the authors’ standpoint and also argued that Amazon allows for an increased level of “discoverability” — which, although distinctly different from that of traditional publishing, continues to promote the value of intellectual works by connecting readers with quality material in a never-ending sea of information.

The panel eventually reached a common consensus that more is in fact better, and the often disdained e-publishing industry is allowing for that increase in information. While the panels throughout the day covered varied aspects of the changing industry, the combination of opposition and agreement found in this individual panel seemed to be reflective of the majority of the day’s presentations.

Contact Sasha Chebil at [email protected].