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Publishing apocalypse predicted in Edinburgh.

In an interesting but spottily researched article, Ewan Morrison argues that authors, booksellers, and publishers are all about to lose the revenues they have become accustomed to because of a new business model, one in which content (with a price trending toward zero) is simply a means to attract consumers whose interests and information are then sold.  He tells us this new approach, driven by both pirates and online publishers, is destroying the current industry; it will leave creative sources underfunded and unrewarded.  His analysis focuses on 'the market'.  Morrison finds his worries and (small) hope in business and models thereof.

However, there are other approaches which might yield different concerns and answers.  Historically, the arts have been buoyed by patrons.  20th century American and British authors had businesses as patrons, in a (hopefully) mutually beneficial relationship.  Morrison suggests those businesses are dying, and encourages fans and authors alike to find some way to save them.  Perhaps writers and readers would do better to simply look for new patronage.  Direct appeals to governments, wealthy individuals, interested organisations, and fans may need to be made.  'Business' and 'the market' should not be completely overlooked in finding a future for working authors, but they are not the be-all-end-all.

My biggest worry, beyond nothing being done to stave off Morrison's (slightly overstated) dystopic fears, is that the nominal democratisation of publishing will eventually mean the end of good editors, proof-readers, and fact-checkers, leading to a distinct loss of quality.  I doubt this part of the industry will be able to find new patronage.  As Cory Doctorow writes, "Much of value will be lost."


  1. If I really like something I'll pay for it, even if it's free. Like Harvey Danger's last album, which they released free for download on their website. I downloaded it, but then I also bought it couple months later because it was so good (and because it came with a t-shirt and cool pins...).

    I'm glad that anyone can post up a blog. A lot of people who never would have gotten a second thought from the publishing industry, or who wouldn't have had the mass appeal necessary to justify giving them a living wage to practice their craft, are now available to me. This is probably selfish of me too, but I also like that these people aren't popular and don't command huge legions of followers that are constantly vieing for their attention because then it feels like we're in a more equitable relationship. There's no way I could have ever talked to a really popular author, but I can publish my comments to you about your vicious and ill-researched articles, with reasonable certainty that they'll at least be read. I've also noticed that these people (not necessarily you) tend to check their blogs pretty regularly, despite the fact that they aren't commented on much. Probably has something to do with variable rate reward schedules and their addictiveness.

    The biggest problem I personally have is the mass availability of all this stuff for free. It requires a lot of discipline to stay focused on one thing. If you only own a few things you treasure them a lot more and get a lot more out of them than if you own many things. Furthermore, I'm wary of Google and Amazon and other corporations that are gathering information on people. The more you know about someone, the more power you have over them. It seems like people are ceding a lot of power because of how much they're willing to reveal about themselves.

    Finally, how can the author of that article prove that digital publishing is hurting traditional publishing? It's possible that readership could be declining for reasons unrelated to digital piracy. Perhaps people simply don't read as much as they use to. Piracy is mainly increasing because it's cheap and it reflects the new value that people place on the written word (i.e. nothing but the time it takes to download it, and maybe for the status it confers).

    Well, this comment is probably in need of a good editor, so I'll just stop now...

  2. I agree evidence is lacking in Morrison's piece. I think a lot of the parallels he constructs are questionable. However, he probably is somewhere near target on the long term trend toward greatly lowered costs and far fewer 20th-century-style publishing houses. I'm not sure these can be avoided.

    The larger questions to me are those of privacy (as you addressed) and quality control (or assistance, if you will).

  3. This blog functions well enough for me, but if I could be my own editor, it would be better. Were I able to approach my writing as I would someone else's, I could greatly improve my style. I feel the absence of a second pair of eyes, especially when I revisit past entries.

    Everybody could use a good editor.


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