In my previous post I claimed that there has never been a more interesting historical moment in publishing than the present. “Publishing” is often understood as synonymous with the “publishing industry,” but in my teaching and writing I prefer to use the term inclusively in order to put small press publishing, self-publishing (including blogging and other forms of social media) and other forms of grassroots activity in dialogue with the more traditional commercial media outlets. Personal and interactive media have absorbed or trumped traditional mass media providers, and those that have survived the ‘big switch’ (as Nicholas Carr calls it) have done so by incorporating the paradigms and principles of emerging media technologies. While writers still embark on book tours to promote new titles, many publishers have cut back significantly on the budgets allotted to personal appearances, favoring virtual promotional tactics such as Twitter feeds, YouTube videos, FaceBook pages, and networked blogging. The fact that all of these tools are user-friendly and essentially free has done much to level the playing field inhabited by small presses and major presses. Where it would have been prohibitive for most small presses of the pre-personal computer era to send a poet on an all-expense-paid trip to promote their new book of poems, a similar press can now create an online campaign on a very limited budget.
Since its foundation in 1995 by Sue Thomas at Nottingham Trent University, UK, under the short-lived name CyberWriting, the trAce Online Writing Centre has been a shifting morphing hybrid entity. Its first output was a word-processed photocopied booklet called Select Internet Resources for Writers, compiled in Summer 1995 by Simon Mills, who went on to build the first trAce website, which launched at the Virtual Futures Conference at Warwick University in May 1996. For the next decade trAce expanded along with the web, evolving organically and somewhat haphazardly into a vast interlinked network created by many different artists, authors and researchers, during a period of rapid technological change.
Between 1995 and 2005 the trAce Online Writing Centre hosted and indeed fostered a complex media ecology: an ever-expanding web site, an active web forum, a local and and international network of people, a host of virtual collaborations and artist-in-residencies, a body of commissioned artworks, the trAce/Alt-X International Hypertext Competition, the Incubation conference series, and frAme, the trAce Journal of Culture and Technology. What emerged was one of the web’s earliest and most influential international creative communities. Its members were diverse, ranging from media-curious workshop participants to artist-in-residencies by some of the most well known practitioners in the fields of new media and digital writing today.