That Beelzebub of the book trade, Waterstone's head buyer Scott Pack, has joined The Friday Project, according to This Writing Life. Actually, maybe Keyser Soze is more appropriate; however hard I Google "Scott Pack", the best image I can come up with is this:
It seems an unlikely pairing. Pack, if he does exist, was the man who determined exactly what selection of chick-lit, lad-lit and Whitbread wannabes would be eligible for the 3-for-2 offers that enabled Waterstone's to sodomise countless independent retailers, not to mention the likes of Ottakar's, into whimpering redundancy. The Friday Project, meanwhile, is part of the stable that brought us Hangingday, The Friday Thing and the London News Review, early attempts to make moolah from the interwebformationsupernethighway on the subscription model. My description of their online offerings (essentially literate and politically savvy tittle-tattle that appeared in your inbox at the end of the week) as "Popbitch with A-levels" still haunts the web, like a smartarsed zombie.
Together, Pack and TFP are jumping on the Blooker bandwagon and seeking to turn blogs into hard copy. So, is this an admission that web-based content (other than pop and porn) needs a pair of analogue trousers if it's going to pay its way? I do think that turning a blog into a book means that you just take away a key attraction of the former (interactivity) and replace it with a couple of selling points of the latter (you can read it on top of Snowdon, or during a power cut).
And surely there's nothing inherently wrong, creatively or commercially, with shifting content from one medium to another, even if it's just the equivalent of the CD scam (flogging us something we already own). I love Nicey and Wifey's Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down site, and I later enjoyed the book. Meanwhile, I discovered Tangents after picking up a copy of Alistair's book - in Waterstone's, of course. Thanks, Scott. In any case, is it really any different from me absorbing Dr Who on TV at the age of seven, and then re-absorbing all the same stories in the form of Target paperbacks a few months later? If the content is strong enough, it should be able to survive the leap. Flip back a few days to the response that Richard's idea of Blake the Blogger received...
Last year, Michael Prochak, who writes for MacWorld, had this to say on the obstinate persistence of dead-tree media:
"Behind every effort we put into trying to conceal the formlessness of our own aspirations, there are, as quantum physicist David Bohm observed, many people who think they are thinking when they're really just re-arranging prejudices. And despite all the big dumb bastards, there's such a thing as being smart. Books help us think. But if computers stopped aping the trends set by crap TV and other dumb media, they too could become powerful tools for thought. After all, as the Buddha said, we are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. And with our thoughts, we make the world."
Contra McLuhan, the message is still the message, it seems. And if we're talking about content that transcends its medium... It's not big and it's far from clever and it would certainly have the shades of my past Eng Lit teachers choking on their staffroom cuppas, but I've come to the conclusion that the greatest piece of prose written in the English language in the last 100 years, in any medium, digital or analogue, colour or black and white, is this:
"Bagpuss gave a big yawn, and settled down to sleep. And when Bagpuss goes to sleep, all his friends go to sleep too. The mice are ornaments on the Mouse Organ; Gabriel and Madeleine are just dolls. And Professor Yaffle is just a carved wooden book-end in the shape of a woodpecker. Even Bagpuss himself, once he is asleep, is just an old, saggy cloth cat; baggy and a bit loose at the seams.
But Emily loved him."