Snippets From SXSW Interactive 2003

Book Culture 2003: For Whom the Web Tolls (March 10, 10-11am)

In Print: From Passion to Publish (March 10, 11:30am-12:30pm)

It wasn't that long ago that the Chicken Littles were saying the Web would be the death of books. In 2003, nothing could be further from the truth. The written word is alive and well, in print and on the Web. Today, the question is: What is the relationship between the Web and readers, writers and publishers?

"The e-book readers of 2000 -- that has been put to rest and is seen as a failure in publishing circles," said Kevin Smokler, a San Francisco Chronicle critic (and formerly of, a site for book lovers). E-books were supposed to be the toehold for ink-and-paper publishers in the Web world. But poor proprietary formats and few downloadable titles killed the venture, along with the simple fact that "there's still a thrill in holding a book in your hand," said online celebrity Ben Brown. Brown is creator of, a micropublisher that specializes in finding and publishing writers whose work originally appeared on the Internet.

While the Internet has provided a new model for publishing, it's done something even more revolutionary -- it provides a new intermediary between reader and writer. Micropublishers, Web log reviewers, and Web sites like and have expanded the discussion of writing and books from longtime bastions like The New York Times Review of Books into the immediate, less buttoned-down world of the Internet.

While traditional publishers have been remarkably slow to realize the full potential of the Web, Smokler points to writers like Neal Pollack who use the Internet to connect to his readers. "No one is going to know you're a writer unless you tell them," Smokler says.

Personal Web journals or Web logs are good ways for writers to develop a voice and find and build an audience. But what becomes of all this digital production? That's what librarian Carrie Bickner wants to know. As assistant director for Digital Information and System Design for the New York Library, she focuses on discovering ways to preserve digital culture for future generations.

"How will we know [Web author Cory] Doctorow's process years from now? What is the digital object, and what piece of it should be saved and stored?" are a few of the questions her work addresses. The answer? Just like new writing on the Web, it's all a work in progress.

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