The changing novel

Time magazine predicts (this week) a coming new hierarchy of books, with traditional print editions, professionally edited, at the top. At lower shelves (pardon the pun) of the continuum it claims will contain print-on-demand versions, as well as e-books — and let’s not forget fanfiction.

The picture:

(M)ore books, written and read by more people, often for little or no money, circulating in a wild diversity of forms, both physical and electronic, far outside the charmed circle of New York City’s entrenched publishing culture. … If readers want to pay for the old-school premium package, they can get their literature the old-fashioned way: carefully selected and edited, and presented in a bespoke, art-directed paper package. But below that there will be a vast continuum of other options: quickie print-on-demand editions and electronic editions for digital devices, with a corresponding hierarchy of professional and amateur editorial selectiveness. (Unpaid amateur editors have already hit the world of fan fiction, where they’re called beta readers.) The wide bottom of the pyramid will consist of a vast loamy layer of free, unedited, Web-only fiction, rated and ranked YouTube-style by the anonymous reading masses.

Interspersed throughout the piece are platitudes: Publishing isn’t dying.

I don’t like the sound of this snippet:

We can expect a literary culture of pleasure and immediate gratification. Reading on a screen speeds you up: you don’t linger on the language; you just click through. We’ll see less modernist-style difficulty and more romance-novel-style sentiment and high-speed-narrative throughput.

Actually, I don’t like the sound of other parts of this proposed new future. But its basis seems reasonably sound. What does this mean for writers (big picture)? For editors and proofreaders?

Via Shelf Awareness.


2 responses to “The changing novel

  1. I read this article yesterday, and I read it with dismay. Yet there is nothing new here, nothing that hasn’t been coming for a long time.

    The intellectual property issue:
    Most users of the internet seem to honestly believe that if they can right-click and copy it, then it’s in the public domain. They freely use long sections of this and that, and images from somewhere else, with no attempt at any kind of citation or notice. It is no surprise that the concepts of ownership and authorship are going out the cyberwindow.

    The quality issue:
    Novels on cell phones? I first read of this perhaps a year ago, and I found the thought quite unrealistic, and yet, look at what MP3s and YouTube have done to the quality of music and video. It wasn’t long ago that audiophiles everywhere were plugging their ears at the horror of digital music, and yet now, it’s the standard. When “Hill Street Blues” pioneered the use of shaky hand-held cameras for broadcast TV, it was said to be a step in the wrong direction. Now it’s so common we just don’t notice any more.

    In a world where music is comething you listen to from your cell phone or a tiny little thing no bigger than the wrist watch nobody wears any more, in a world where video is smeary, blurry clips with pixels the size of matchheads, in a world where you freely trade both with all your friends, how is the writer going to make a living?

    Levi Montgomery

  2. Fan fiction is what the world is coming to? Sad very sad.

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