“What one writer can make in the solitude of one room is something no power can easily destroy.”
Author Salman Rushdie as formerly featured at Red Room. (photo graphic courtesy of the Internet Archive Wayback Machine)
A lot of hearts passionate about reading, writing, publishing, and literary culture in general were broken July 3 when emails went out informing members of the former online Red Room community that it was going offline on July 8. Canada’s rapidly-growing Wattpad had acquired the San Francisco-based Red Room and elected to dissolve it rather than let it stand as a separate entity the way Amazon did when it acquired Goodreads last year. The July 3 notice gave those who had been having a quiet intense love affair with the online community for just over half a decade less than a week to get their profiles, keyboards, and gigabytes of shared content in order.
Aside from the emotional impact of having to unexpectedly say goodbye to what many considered a genuine “class literary act,” a number of writers realized they had initially composed and posted original works for their blogs and comments sections directly online without bothering to store back-ups anywhere else. Call it a 21st-century side effect of texting and instant messaging which tends to encourage––though not necessarily by any means intentionally–– communicating with minimal reflection on what is said before it is said. That same impulse prompts minimal concern for the preservation of shared texts even when the capacity for such preservation is available.
A Value unto Itself
The dilemma of losing original writings to the sudden departure of a favored website is not something likely to happen to an old school writer for one simple reason. Ever since as long ago as the predigital age of the number-2 pencil and the typewriter, wordsmiths-in-training were repeatedly cautioned to never give up the only copies of their writings to anyone for any reason. Most, in fact, were often told to never relinquish their “originals” period, which is one reason you occasionally hear about “authentic manuscripts” selling at auctions for millions of dollars (hard copies not digital files—at least not yet). Their value is derived from the singular legitimacy endowed by a moment in history and by an experienced crystallization of consciousness that can be described but not duplicated. The results of the moment can be reproduced in the form of copies, published articles, genuine books, or digital files. But it remains a fixed event with a value unto itself.
That same saving grace of old school strategies and impulses seems to have prompted Red Room CEO Ivy Madison and website editors to guard against the total loss of works previously published on the site by partnering with the Internet Archive Wayback Machine to preserve members’ content. According to the posted domain sale notice, “The complete Red Room archive created the week of July 7, 2014 will show up on the July 2014 portion of the Wayback Machine calendar by approximately August 15, 2014.” That’s a far better deal than many others have gotten under similar circumstances.
Former Red Room editor Huntington Sharp maintained the following in response to a Publishers Weekly article on the subject, “No one lost their content: we made a special arrangement with the Internet Archive to make sure every page will be findable on the Wayback Machine. We don’t know of any other platform having taken this step on behalf of customers, but Red Room and Wattpad did.”