I’ve spent the last couple of days working on Novelr’s first collaraborative project. What this project does is it attempts to answer the question: ‘why do you read online fiction?’ and most of it is still, I must admit, in bits and pieces. But let’s examine the answers to that question, and ask ourselves some other related, and difficult, questions about this field we’re in.
For instance, let us consider that a large amount of people reading online fiction are writers themselves. One of the main community efforts in Novelr has been about how we can get more readers (ie: non-writing, non-creating people) to the medium, to consume what we writers are publishing. We want consumers of online fiction, and we must admit that ideally, we want an audience who are not participants – who do not produce works of fiction themselves. So what does that mean? It means that we’re currently writing for other writers. What is troubling with that assumption? Does it tick you off that the only reason other writers are reading your work is because they, too, want to be read by you? I’m now talking about an I’ll read your work if you read mine policy, and indeed that very topic has been explored on Novelr before in a guest post. But what’s wrong with it? Are you, like some of us, happy that you’re been read, to hell with the writer/reader dichotomy? What does an acceptance of this situation mean?
The first thing that springs to mind when we talk about an audience of equal creators is the blogosphere. People write blogs for a small audience, and it’s highly likely that a portion of that audience are bloggers themselves, and that you read and comment on their blogs to reward them for coming to visit your blog. The more successful blogs (say, Techcrunch) have a larger reader to blogger ratio, and they return a smaller amount of comments than a less successful blog (say, your Mum’s) would. Another example of a community of equal creators is the photo sharing site Flickr. Your contacts post photos and you post photos and everyone looks and comments at each other’s photos because, like us, I’ll read yours if you read mine.
The upshot of my above paragraph is that an audience of equal creators is the accepted norm in many areas of the online world. It is Internet culture. And even if this were not true, and that your blog commands a small readership of non-bloggers, consider: what is to prevent any or all of them from starting up their own blogs? Nothing? Nothing. In a medium where the barriers to entry (or creation) are almost nil, a community of creators are quite inevitable. Taking all of the above into consideration, and also taking into consideration that by the very act of writing your blook you are inspiring your readers to start their own blooks, are we likely, as a bunch of writers, to ever find an audience of ‘just’ readers? Is it alright if we don’t? What differences are there if we compare this model to the model of the book, the publisher, and the bookstore?
You’ll find the answers unflattering, I believe, and I’d rather not answer them for you. You can tell me your thoughts in the comments area of this post. But here’s something to chew on before I step back: there may well come a day where the amount of people who want to write books outnumber the amount of people who want to read them. Indulge me and close your eyes: imagine this book future for a little while. Now wouldn’t that be strange? Yes, I can hear your voices now: that would be strange indeed.