New media and publishing, starring Wil Wheaton


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It’s three days later, and I’m still trying to get a handle on the most important elements of the Festival of Books ‘#book: new media meets publishing’ panel discussion. And I think I should have figured it out by now, because I wasn’t just at the panel, I was on it -- that’s me, the moderator, at the far right.

The important people on the panel were Dana Goodyear (poet, New Yorker writer and founder of the upcoming Figment), Pablo Defendini (new media producer and designer, formerly of MacMillan’s and Wil Wheaton (actor, author, blogger, Twitter force, mensch).


The broad discussion began with intersections of new media and publishing. Goodyear explained that Figment will be a self-publishing electronic platform directed at teens, much like Japanese cellphone novels she wrote about in the New Yorker. Wil Wheaton answered a question that had been submitted via Twitter, about why he’d become involved with Twitter in the first place (short answer: Sean Bonner first, Warren Ellis second). Soon Wheaton, who sold thousands of copies of his book ‘Sunken Treasure’ in PDF, explained that he isn’t worried about book piracy: ‘People who don’t want to give a creator money,’ he said, ‘are never going to give a creator money.’

There have been a few write-ups of the panel: Department H at Collier Comics captures the spirit of the discussion and catches all the e-book design geekery; Publishing Perspectives heard the drumbeat of self-publishing; the Book Smugglers loved Defendini; and Publishers Weekly cast the discussion as e-book extremists versus a moderate Goodyear.

‘I am unsurprised that the ‘mainstream’ media completely missed the point of our #LATFOB panel,’ Wheaton Tweeted Tuesday, ‘while several bloggers totally grokked it.’

What almost everyone missed was Wil Wheaton’s clear, direct and pointed remarks against DRM. DRM, for those who don’t know, stands for Digital Rights Management -- which in this case referred to proprietary e-book formats that can be used only on certain devices. Wheaton directed his remarks to Amazon and major publishers, knowing there were reporters in the audience. Sadly, only Deparment H picked up the thread. Who knows, maybe they were the only ones who recognized that when Wheaton said ‘mobi’ he was talking about .MOBI, an encrypted file format.

In the past, the L.A. Times has made audio of the panels available. If it does in this case, I’ll listen and report back. Because what Wheaton said -- and Defendini applauded -- is worth hearing in more detail than my moderator’s memory can recount.

Somewhere early in the discussion, Defendini talked about his experience moving from advertising to publishing; his most ‘headdesking’ moment came when he realized that publishers saw book buyers for the major chains as their customers, rather than readers. After his lament that no one in publishing talked to readers, the only thing to do was open the session up to questions from the readers in the room.


The questions were interesting and wide-ranging, but one cropped up again and again -- an old standard with a new twist. Instead of the classic, ‘How do I get my book published?’ people are now asking, ‘How do I publish my ebook?’

-- Carolyn Kellogg, with reporting by Dima Alzayat

(Further clarification: ‘grok,’ is a made-up word meaning to understand deeply and completely; it’s from Robert Heinlein’s science fiction classic, ‘Stranger in a Strange Land.’ I thought everyone knew this but ran into someone last week who’d never heard it. I may be lousy at French, but my Geek is still pretty good.)

Photo, from left: Dana Goodyear, Pablo Defendini, Wil Wheaton and moderator Carolyn Kellogg. Credit: Dima Alzayat