There’s an interesting piece in Time Magazine this week by Lev Grossman about modern book publishing, and how the way mainstream publishing does things now is a dying breed, and that change is-a-coming.
A lot of headlines and blogs to the contrary, publishing isn’t dying. But it is evolving, and so radically that we may hardly recognize it when it’s done. Literature interprets the world, but it’s also shaped by that world, and we’re living through one of the greatest economic and technological transformations since–well, since the early 18th century. The novel won’t stay the same: it has always been exquisitely sensitive to newness, hence the name. It’s about to renew itself again, into something cheaper, wilder, trashier, more democratic and more deliriously fertile than ever.
Now, there’s some stuff in the article that I would prefer were clarified. Grossman discusses the rise in fan fiction and self-publishing and references three authors whose self-published books sold very well through their own efforts and earned them high advances from traditional houses. But I think he could spend more time discussing the huge numbers of self-published titles that never sell more than 100 copies.
He mentions the YouTube culture of popularity bringing the best entertainment to the forefront of our consciousness, but think of how many millions of videos there are on YouTube that you’ll never see, never even hear of, that aren’t anything to write home about.
But I do like this part:
If you think about it, shipping physical books back and forth across the country is starting to seem pretty 20th century. Novels are getting restless, shrugging off their expensive papery husks and transmigrating digitally into other forms. Devices like the Sony Reader and Amazon’s Kindle have gained devoted followings.
I’ve said before, I love my Kindle, and for the ease of instaneous download and ease of transportation, a digital reader can’t be beat. But I’m not going to trash all the books I have currently, and I do think we — as an industry — need to consider the best way of paying authors, and agents, and editors, for the work they do in getting a rough manuscript to book form — whether that form is traditional or high tech.
Read the whole thing, and let’s talk about it. I’m curious to hear what you think.
(Ironically, perhaps, I first came to know Lev Grossman’s work through his novel Codex, which is partly about the search for a very old-fashioned medieval manuscript.)