I am the last person to know what the future of publishing is going to be. I say this in my interview in the current issue of LOCUS (this has been a promotional plug). So I'm always eager to listen to other people tell me what future publishing holds. A few days ago I got to do this at Leslie Howle's house, where she held a "networking event."
It was an evening both enlightening and bewildering. Greg Bear discussed his and Neal Stephenson's Mongoliad project (www.mongoliad.com). This is a "collaborative book" with serial chapters by Bear and Stephenson, which will take into consideration comments and feedback from readers. There is also artwork, maps, and some gorgeous period sets. A reader can subscribe for six months or a year. The story is an epic fantasy that will change and grow with feedback.
Bob Krueger discussed his website, electricstory.com. At the moment Electric Story is a subscription site offering reprint and new fiction, but Bob has in beta testing a more ambitious idea. One problem with reader reviews on a site like amazon.com is that one disgruntled reader can write, say, ten bad reviews under different screen names and bring a book's ratings way down -- or way up. (There are rumors that some authors and/or publishers do just this). Bob's system would assign "weights" to different people's reviews of self-published stories posted on the site. A review by Gardner Dozois might, for example, be worth ten points. If a story gets enough favorable reaction, Bob will offer a contract to the author for publication on the main Electric Story site. Again, this is in testing.
Several game-company people discussed what they are doing now, and in their comments I heard even more blurring of the line between traditional fiction and other media forms.
Especially revealing was Leslie's question as to how many people present own an e-reading device -- Kindle, i-Pad, other. Every single household had one. Granted, we are hardly a representative group of Americans. Still...
After listening to everyone, I still don't know what the future of publishing is -- are these just interesting experiments that will stay on the fringe, or are they harbingers of genuine change? I'm waiting to find out.