An amateur press association is, to use a back-formation, a sort of LiveJournal in print. APAs originated in science fiction fandom a long time ago (the 40s? 50s?). [Update: calimac has the real scoop. APAs started...in the 19th. c.] You'd write a zine, copy it (on mimeo or photocopier, depending on the decade), and send the copies to a central person. That person would staple together all participants' zines into a distribution and mail them out to everybody. Then you'd read the distribution and include comments on everyone else's zines in your own zine, as well as whatever life updates or essays you wanted to include.
I've been an apa member since fall of 1988. The apa I'm in is up to distribution 160 and is published every two months. There are current around 20 members. My zines have ranged from 2 to 25 pages, typically averaging 10 or 12 pages. I've written at least a million words for the apa and I've missed very few distributions.
Over the years, members have come and gone; some have joined and dropped out more than once. Three or four original members still participate. I joined around distribution 19 or 20. I've written zines using WordPerfect, AmiPro, Word, and NeoOffice, to give you a brief history of word processing. I seriously thought about using FrameMaker for a while, too.
In the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s, the apa had a two-year-plus waiting list, and there were times when turnover was so slow that the editor decided to admit a new person at some interval just so we'd have new voices. People came and went for the usual reasons: a demanding job, going back to school, a new relationship, lack of interest, health, or time. In three cases, apa members died....
Then the blogsophere and LiveJournal took over the publishing lives of many many people, and suddenly there was less interest in apas. The waiting list disappeared. Among other reasons, why wait to join a print medium when you could set up a blog and have an audience of more than 20? And have them commenting in real time rather than two months later?
The Well, founded in 1985 as an online adjunct to Whole Earth Review, was one of the first online communities. In the beginning, you could reach it only by direct-dialing a modem pool....because the Internet did not exist yet. This made it an expensive proposition even in the Bay Area where members were geographically close to the modem pool; I remember all too many reports of gigantic phone bills to go with the gigantic bills for participating....because in 1990, when I joined, there was a $2/hour cost for using the Well. The cost issues led to creative solutions like the phone line in someone's closet that forwarded to a Marin county number and somehow greatly reduced the phone charges for the people who knew about it. Eventually, the Well joined the Internet and you could get a Netcom account with a local modem pool, log in to Netcom, and telnet to the Well, meaning your phone costs dropped to the price of the Netcom account, which was, at the time $20/month.
During the early 90s, there was immense concern about what might happen if the Well got too big. The number of concern was around 10,000 members, at a time when the Well had maybe 5,000, of whom the 250 most active probably posted 80% of the content. Owing to the total ineptitude of just about everyone who ever ran or owned the Well, this never became a problem. Now, of course, the Well is shrinking and is sadly down to maybe 3200 members. The web interface sucks; there are lots and lots of specialized places to talk about your areas of interest elsewhere on the Internet, and to lots of people the Well looks like a small, cantankerous collection of aging, leftist hippies. That's because we are a collection of aging, cantankerous, leftist hippies.
Over the years, lots of people have come and gone. They got tired of the tiny number of Well members, the shiny toys of the larger Internet beckoned, the Web took over, the blogosphere wiggled its little fingers at them, people's lives changed. And of course a few people died. Yes, I miss the departed, whatever their reasons for leaving, but change is inevitable.
I'm still a participant on the Well and in an apa. I find value in a slow-motion print medium where I can write at whatever length I like and have interesting exchanges with people. I'm still on the Well because it's a great place to chat, to get recommendations for restaurants, books, and museums to visit. (In some ways, it's hilarious to see big companies trying desperately to make money by replicating what I've had on the Well for decades: a bunch of people I know and trust who can responding intelligently to questions, requests for recommendations, and so on.) I've known many Well members for 20 years+ now; I have them calibrated; I like to talk with them, whether it's about the latest science fiction novels I should read or what's going on with their kids. The Well is my virtual water cooler, but the folks at the cooler are also my friends.
Over at Musical Assumptions and On an Overgrown Path, Elaine Fine and Bob Shingleton are in mourning, it seems, over changes in the classical music blogosphere. I suggest reading the comments as well as the postings, to get some different perspectives. This posting will be an expansion of some of what I say in my comments on those blog postings.
Elaine mentions a number of changes in the world of classical music, including how music is now published, choices she has made about publishing her own music, and the collapse of classical radio. The existence of IMSLP is both a reaction to problems in music publishing and a reason for its collapse: if renting out parts to out-of-copyright symphonies and selling Brahms and Lassus vocal works to universities support publishing new music, a publisher who has less of that business because of IMSLP has less money available to publish new music and promote composers. Mid-list authors, who sell steadily, but not spectacularly, have to do an awful lot of their own book promotion because publisher publicists are available primarily to best selling authors. The same is true in music publishing, I am sure. If you're John Adams - or you can pay your own publicist - you're in luck. Otherwise, you're doing your own publicity.
Elaine also discusses the camaraderie of the early-ish CM blogosphere, that is, the grand days of 2005 or so. I agree; there is somewhat less camaraderie, fewer comments on each others' blogs, fewer blogosphere-wide discussions. I'm somewhat sorry about this. On the other hand, how many times can we discuss applause between movements? Or whether classical music is dying? I've completely stopped wrestling with Greg Sandow over this because he is so obviously wrong about so much. Yes, some classical music institutions will die, but most will not. When was that ever not true? It would be interesting to see what happened during the Great Depression as a comparison to what's happening now. And how many times can one arm-wrestling with AC Douglas about anything??
There's plenty of camaraderie left, from my perspective, at least in the Bay Area: we read and comment on each other's blogs and even get to see each other in person. (San Francisco is a small town for a big city.) I sat at a table at a press conference yesterday with Patrick Vaz, Sid Chen, and Axel Feldheim. We would have invited Josh Kosman to sit with us
I still comment on plenty of blogs around the blogosphere, too. And I wouldn't hesitate to contact the bloggers I read if I were to visit London, NYC, or Vienna.
A major point that both Elaine and Bob make seems to be that somehow the classical music blogosphere is becoming commercialized: Elaine mentions commercial or commercially-minded bloggers and obviously thinks this is a bad thing - but the only name she names is Norman Lebrecht.
What? Lebrecht is an author and journalist, and one who is and has always been controversial. He makes his living writing (I think). He's blogging as an adjunct to the rest of his career.
I'm hard-pressed to see what's wrong with this, per se. I started my blog, among other reasons, to draw attention to my writing in hopes of expanding the number of paid outlets for which I write. (It sort of worked; the major limiting factor is time. Also, blogging has taken on a life of its own for me, because, well, I like to write about music and I like having an audience that can talk back.)
If Lebrecht has turned to simply spouting press-release-ese, that's unfortunate. If it were a trend, it would be a bad trend. But one blogger isn't a trend, and, well, it's Lebrecht.
Now, I have some points of sadness about people who are no longer blogging (or no longer blogging much) because of time, work, performing, writing, or having said what they have to say, including Sid (The Standing Room) and Jonathan Bellman (Dial "M" for Musicology). Luckily, there are hundreds of people now blogging about classical music, and lots of them are well worth reading. There's just no shortage of good writing about music out there. (And that's another reason why there's less commenting, etc. We can't keep up.)
I don't see problems with people deciding to blog at advertising-supported sites, because people have to eat. Earning money from your writing isn't evil, just difficult. Not to mention, anybody can commercialize their blog with Google AdSense. My recollection is that ACD made just enough from AdSense and maybe Amazon Affiliates to pay his site hosting fees; I think that James Jorden might be making more than that from ads on Parterre Box. I do not think this automatically makes people suspect; better to judge them on what they actually write.
Yeah, if you're just reposting press releases, well, zzzzz. You're boring and don't deserve to be read. What's interesting is your reactions to press releases, music news, concerts, etc. But where are all these people reposting press releases? Not in my RSS feed.
I don't particularly understand the sideswipe at The Rest is Noise. I dislike some of the particulars of the book and have one serious beef with it, but a book on 20th c. music that sells like hotcakes and gets translated into a dozen or so languages is doing us all a favor.
On to Bob's remarks. He says that...
classical music blogging in both micro and macro formats is losing its appeal because a number of high profile bloggers have sucked the genre into a vicious downward spiral. This spiral means blogs are fast becoming no more than an echo chamber for industry press releases and salacious gossip leavened occasionally by that perennial fallback for the creatively challenged, a YouTube video. Let's not forget that yesterday's corporately-cooked lunch is unappetising even when reheated by syndication and aggregation.Okay. He says "a number of high profile bloggers" without naming names. I'd really like to know who he's talking about. As a fan of Parterre Box's heady mix of criticism, news, gossip, and bitchiness, I hope that's not who he's talking about....no, wait. I don't actually care if he means Parterre Box, where readers know exactly what they're getting. But I'd love to know who he does mean.
I myself passed on an opportunity a year or so back to syndicate my blog to another site, one that's rather less visible than HuffPost. My reasons had a lot to do with my own independence and the hazards of moving your blogging site. See Unquiet Thoughts: it didn't take Alex long to revive The Rest is Noise, the blog, after saying he was moving to The New Yorker's site.
I also think that Twitter is not the devil, unlike Bob (and apparently Elaine). Sure, there's plenty of retweeting in my stream. Does anybody actually read their full Twitter stream?? I don't think I could; there's just too much pouring out of everyone. But most of what I see - or pay attention to - consists of links to material I might not otherwise have seen. And I see plenty of tweets directed to me personally.
I was a huge Twitter skeptic for a long time, and also - just not very interested. So it took me until last year to open an account, and I have found Twitter useful for a number of things:
- Getting an answer from a performing arts organization much faster than I would have if I'd used email. ("When is your season announcement?", for example).
- Links to blog postings and article I haven't seen in my RSS reader and might not have found.
- Breaking news reports
- Spreading the word about a new blog posting (self-promotion, yes!)
- Public instant messaging
- Teasing people
For anyone feeling nostalgic, I also recommend a reading of The Victorian Internet, by Tom Standage. The invention of the telegraph in the 19th c. meant a great increase in the speed of communication. Predictions about the effects of the telegraph on society bore a remarkable resemblance to predictions about the Internet, all the way down to the dire warnings, nostalgia for the hand-written letter, etc. I expect you could find similar predictions when the telephone became popular. Yes, things change. And we live in interesting times. Better than being bored, I say.