I was very much looking forward to this panel presentation. The line up was great: Cate Kennedy, Anna Poletti, Melinda Marengo, Angela Meyer, and Barry Dorr and Jo Costello (of JoJo publishing). And of course I wasn’t disappointed (my only disappointment really was the fact that I didn’t get to ask a question. It was a good one, to be directed at Cate. I spent quite a while formulating it. I did put it to Angela later though. She agrees it was a good question.)

There was a lot said, and in order to do the discussion justice I want to report on what I think were the main ideas raised. Cate Kennedy, as you might have already guessed (especially having already read her article ‘Driven to Distraction’ published recently in Overland) outlined why she is not overly interested in online writing, particularly the writing that occurs on social media sites. She feels that since learning to read and write she has always felt herself ‘a part of a virtual community’ anyway, one of fellow readers and writers, and that that world is ‘already sustained’. To her, publishing that is based on the internet = ‘what are you doing right now what are you doing right now what are you doing right now’. And furthermore, she claims that online publishing offers ‘no firewall of editorial know-how’. Cate’s views are reasonable and often correct, but this last claim made me think (it was the substance of my never-asked-question). Such a statement ignores reputable online journals such as Cordite, Mascara, and Verity La (all with editorial controls), but also, it ignores the potential benefits of online writing. Without thinking too much about it, they are readership, and one thing a print journal cannot offer with such immediacy, participation and feedback.

These ideas were taken up by Angela Meyer, but before that Anna Poletti outlined her ideas on ‘sustainable literature’ (sustainability is (as perhaps I should have mentioned already) one of the themes of the festival). Anna is a colleague of mine from CSU, where she teaches English and creative writing. She earned her doctorate by writing about zines. As Anna told us, ‘zines are a form of publishing without editor or publisher facilitating the process’. But importantly, as I think she was getting at, zines are objects that are without doubt more valued than objects published by major presses. Anna said ‘there’s a really big problem with Dan Brown books, that Op shops are currently facing’. I guess it’s true. Mass produced books are a product people buy read and then discard. How sustainable is that? Although Anna didn’t mention it as such, online publishing is in some ways more sustainable, and, the space is infinite.

Angela Meyer has a blog. But you know this. It gets 6,500 individual page views per month. (We will not go into the stats concerning the humble typingspace…) She is therefore the perfect person to present a view opposing Cate Kennedy’s. And she does this cleverly and efficiently: ‘New ways of publishing don’t mean the death of old ways of publishing’. Her view is that there is a distinctly positive experience to be had writing in an online environment, it’s just that you need to know how to control the experience, to filter the information and connections. She tells us there are many ways to find the good material on the internet (and to contribute to it), these include the recommendations of friends, links, blogrolls, twitter links etc etc. All of this feels instinctively true to me. My online interaction has been moulded over the years. There is the distractive side, but the connective benefits outweigh this by far. You just need to be smart about it. As Angela says, ‘You can filter out the crap – not following people who talk about their cats all the time [for example]’.

The other panelists contributed to the discussion too. Melinda Marengo outlined her love of writing and her venture into self-publishing; Barry and Jo of JoJo publishing talked about their particular publishing philosophy. All in all, it was a discussion with great range, and as is always likely to be the case, it felt as if there just wasn’t enough time to cover everything, to tease out all of the good ideas (perhaps if I had of had the opportunity to ask my question…)

A good time was had by all, and I know a number of the audience members went on to attend Angela’s blogging workshop. No doubt many will be at Anna’s zine-making workshop today (which will feature real working typewriters!)