Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Pronouncements that paper books are dead and should resign themselves to pulping have been made for at least a decade, if not more. The collapse of Barnes & Noble, however, has brought the idea boiling to the surface of the ever-simmering, Chicken-Little doomsday soup, and we have, once again, to face yet another round of doom, gloom, and corporate pessimism that will cause even more pain and tribulation for those of us who care more about the written word and the overall health of the culture than about media delivery systems. I’m certainly not going to miss B&N. For a very long time the national bookstore chain was part of the problem and never a solution, entrenching the concept of the monolith bestseller, encouraging the worst short-sighted excesses of major publishers, constraining diversity and experimentation, and generally making life difficult-going-on-impossible for mid-list authors and the owners of boutique bookstores who actually cared about the tomes they were selling. B&N wanted nothing more than a world of books reduced to the next Sarah Palin (or, worse still, Sarah Silverman), Left Behind, and Harry Potter, plus a lot of cookbooks and Christian parenting manuals. I will not mourn them, but I also can’t raise a great deal of excitement about electronic reading machines, be they Kindle or iPad or other. They can only mean the critical mass of literature will be wholly controlled by Amazon, Apple, Sony, some other dire global entity-to-come, and that manipulation and censorship will be rule of the game rather than an unpleasant possibility.
As a fantasist, I have a dislike of futurists, and am loath to make predictions, but even a cursory examination of the recent past should give enough hints. The book, and especially the novel, will mutate rather than die. Paper books will continue, much in the way that vinyl continues. Some kinds of paper volumes will be re-crafted as faux-luxury items while others will be demanded by folks who simply want to read that way. A lot of people will read e-books, a lot won’t, and by far the majority won’t anything read at all. What scares me in the short term is that writers, like musicians, will become expendable. The corporate salary person frequently cannot tell the good from the bad from the ugly, and runs like a mutt from the risky and the unconventional. At a time when authors should be crafting whole new conventions and creatively investigating how reading patterns are being changed by the internet and the inroads of contemporary tech, they will be left to twist in the wind, with publishers shucking off their traditional role of the bankers of writing. It was stupidity – not technology – that destroyed the magazine industry.
Like I said just now, I’m loath to make predictions, because, even when on the right track, I know they are never the complete picture. Thus, above all, I expect the unexpected and know I must be ready to run with it. Right now I am working on the fifth Renquist novel in a way that may well cause agents and editors – already clinging desperately to celeb non-books – to shake their heads in confirmation that I am as insane as they always suspected. But I continue, because, in the end, that’s both the strength and the downfall of all creative work. Whatever happens, you just gotta do it.

Click here to fill in some background with a more conventional view of the situation.

The secret word is Onward


AmandaRose said...

Hey, I'm doing a book giveaway on my blog and thought you might be interested!

Great Blog!

Faux_Smoke said...

Give'em to me, I can sell those fucking things at a used book store & then go get crunk!

email is listed in mah profile, hit me up & I'll give you a P.O. Box to send off to sweetcheeks.

Alan Burridge said...

As long as Renquist V is published, I don't care what happens next, Mick. Keep on trucking. Insanity is fun.

Miq-Tak said...

Back when I was in the trade I heard from an authoritative source the story of how an ordering error at B&N caused the success of the woeful DaVinci Code. Seems a regional manager accidentally added a '0' to an order--it was supposed to be 5,000, not 50,000 copies. No one caught the mistake, and when 50,000 books showed up, she was stuck with a choice: get rid of them or get fired.

So she came down like MjĒ«llnir on her store managers, and shoved the thing down their throats. They did whatever they had to, to sell them, namely, erecting giant displays in the front of the store. The rest is sordid history.

Anonymous said...

Just another way for TPTB to control access to information and have a population of obedient, illiterate sheep.

Change said...

Can imagine the bellyaching, brow furrowing, liberal angst and whining that went down when Herr Gutenberg unleashed his modernizing horrors upon the never to be seen again glories of the illuminateds, not to speak of the oral tradition adherents and memory theater magicians.

USA2010 is no country for old men.

Stick with your VJ fetishism.

Anonymous said...

Pass the nailgun.

Pepsi said...

USA2010 is a country where young men play with their phones.

Peromyscus said...

I love the idea that there were "liberals" and "angst" around in Gutenberg's day. It would be worth writing a sketch about except I'm pretty sure I already saw one on YouTube.

What's a vj?