Relevance and reward, 1

For many years, I said “I’ll keep writing as long as people keep reading what I write.”

That may be a bad formulation. Here’s a better one:

I’ll keep writing (in a particular area, in a particular manner) as long as it continues to be relevant and rewarding.

“People keep reading what I write” is one measure of relevance and reward, to be sure, but it may not be one that works very well at this point. It worked fine when I earned my living doing something else that was both relevant and (usually, and always financially) rewarding. It worked great when the combined package of paid columns and articles, paid speaking invitations, citations and discussions based on what I was writing, and other linked measures made it clear that my writing (and speaking) was relevant to a reasonably large group of library folk.

Now? I’m wondering.

Relevance?

I hadn’t thought about it explicitly, but when I lost my full-time position, I was as much concerned about remaining relevant as I was about financial rewards.

At that point, Cites & Insights still seemed pretty clearly relevant to a fair number of people (based on feedback and the extent to which items were cited elsewhere). While speaking invitations were on the decline, there were still some of them–and I still had two paid columns in print magazines.

And I was offered a part-time position that, while never well paid, yielded results I considered highly relevant and valuable to the field, doing something I thought I could do exceptionally well. So, all in all, I was happy enough with relevance, and there were enough rewards overall to keep me reasonably happy.

Rewards…

The last 18 months or so have been a little more difficult. The part-time position went away and, in the process, the work I’d done was scrapped entirely, as though it was of no importance to anybody.

Look: My day job was library systems analysis, design and programming for five decades. I knew that very little I did would survive long after I left. I doubt that any of the code I wrote anywhere is still being used; I’m not sure much of the design work survives in any fashion. That’s OK–it comes with the territory. Abruptly deciding to deep-six an entire interlinked body of professional literature with no real warning, two or three months after updating of that body has ended: That’s something different.

Cites & Insights has always been a little tricky. It was sponsored for several years (continued thanks to YBP!); it was clearly being quoted and cited for several years. Apparent readership (based on Urchin statistical reports) was strong, and each issue or essay continued to gain readers over time.

Meanwhile…well, speaking invitations dried up completely. (That might change–given at least one of the books that’s coming out, I hope it will.) The “freemium” model wasn’t working: C&I wasn’t yielding speaking invitations and attempts to produce something special for a fee were essentially useless. (Four copies of the hardcopy limited edition sold. Four.) And, while the numbers still seem reasonably strong, I’m not seeing much of any secondary recognition–not much sign that C&I is part of the ongoing professional conversations. And, of course, there’s essentially no revenue (I believe donations this year total two digits before the decimal point).

I tried something mildly interesting in producing the Library 2.0 Reader for a PDF and hardcopy price that yielded a nominal $4 in revenue–and adding a slight speedbump to the original C&I issues, both of which were still being downloaded–apparently–hundreds of times each month. The speedbump, a substitute PDF, suggested buying the book, but also gave the very brief URL for the continued free copy.

That’s been extremely discouraging. Not only has the Reader barely sold at all–five copies in June 2011, two in July 2011, zero copies (also true for all C&I books) in August, September, and so far October 2011–but Urchin statistics show that, while there have been 783 downloads of the stub issue since July 1, there have been only 16 PDF downloads of the new version of the original essay and 7 or fewer of the more recent ones. HTML hasn’t done much better: 17 of the original, 13 of the followup, 11 of the more recent essay. In essence, not only won’t people pay a nominal sum for these essays, all but a handful aren’t even ready to copy-and-paste a URL. I can only assume that, for 90+% of the downloads/clicks on the PDF, there’s no real relevance there.

Oh…and my print magazine columns dried up, one at the end of 2009, the other at the end of this year. In both cases, I think the editor’s decision was right: The column had run or has run its course.

I’ve said most of this before

True enough, including the Bibs & Blather in the August 2011 C&I. There I talked about relative priority of various projects, with C&I going back to a lower priority level.

I also said “It’s still here. I’m still here” and that C&I was likely to continue, “Possibly with less regularity. Probably with less intensity.” I said I was nearly certain to reach issue 144 (one somewhat natural stopping point, a gross of issues) and better than 95% likely to reach issue 150. (I also made some changes and, I believe, improvements in the layout and in the HTML versions. For what those changes are worth…)

C&I has reached issue 144: the current issue, dated October 2011. It actually appeared on September 17, 2011; that’s on the late side for relation of actual appearance to issue date, but not by much.

What’s changed?

Maybe nothing. On the other hand, it’s now October 19, and not only isn’t a November issue imminent, I haven’t written anything toward such an issue.

Something curious happened toward the end of last week and early this week. I turned around a second round copyediting draft of The Librarian’s Guide to Micropublishing, the book (to be published by Information Today, Inc.) that I regard as something every public library would benefit from–and yes, “every” does include some very small libraries–and possibly the most important and relevant book I’ve ever written in the field, up to and including MARC for Library Use, although it’s a very different kind of relevance. I won’t be doing anything on that book for at least another week and a half, and remaining steps are quite small…

Meanwhile, work’s well begun on my 2012 book for ALA Editions, on public libraries’ use of social networks. I’d completed the first pass survey of libraries in25 states. As of the end of last week, I was about a third of the way through the draft of the book itself.

It would have been a perfect time to turn some attention to Cites & Insights, printing lead sheets for an essay and starting work on the actual writing during breaks in working on the new book.

Instead, I decided to expand the social network project: Building a new spreadsheet with public libraries in another 13 states (all the remaining states with readily-available spreadsheets of library names and service areas), some 3,600 of them, and starting a slightly more efficient survey of social network use in those libraries. That, combined with an already-planned “quarter later” rescan of the original 25 states (which may now become a four-months-later rescan), pretty much takes up library-related energy, one reason there have been so few posts.

Where does that leave Cites & Insights?

Caught in relevance-and-reward limbo, at least for now.

I  know Open Access: What You Need to Know Now is and should be relevant, even if it’s gotten a lot less attention than I was hoping.

I know The Librarian’s Guide to Micropublishing is relevant and should be rewarding.

I know Libraries on Social Networks (working title) will be relevant and, I hope, rewarding.

Doing the substantial amount of additional research for that project will add slightly to its value. “Slightly” is probably the operative term. And yet, when faced with the choice of working on that slow, slogging, slow process or working on C&I essays, I chose the research.

Is C&I defunct? No, at least not yet. Is it on indefinite hiatus? I honestly don’t know at this point. (You could put that another way: Will there be a November/December 2011 issue? Damned if I know…)

Could this change? Of course. But for now, that’s where things stand. Or sit.

Relevance matters. So do rewards, of which relevance itself is an important (but not the only) one.

 

 

 

2 Responses to “Relevance and reward, 1”

  1. laura Says:

    I continue to be amazed at how different your reasons for writing are from mine — but I’m glad you’re finding projects that seem to be more satisfying.

  2. walt Says:

    It’s not entirely surprising that our reasons are different.

    My reasons for writing are different now than they were when I was 20 or 30 or 40 or 50, or even 60.

    And, to be sure, this is about “writing” in a longer-form, more formal sense than blog posts, tweets (which I rarely do) or whatever it is we do on FriendFeed.


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