Archive for March, 2009

The best gifts don’t come wrapped

Icicle
Image by Redgum

A relative gave me a wonderful birthday present this week. She bought me a book of Seamus Heaney’s poetry. Inside was a personal inscription from the author who must have been told of my writing ambitions before signing it, because I never met him. I’d like to share it with you; I hope Mr. Heaney won’t mind.

For Brendan –

Keep your eye clear
As the bleb of the icicle –

and keep going –

Encouragement.

It can’t be bought, or sold, or wrapped, but is nonetheless a wonderful gift to give … and receive. Also, given recent posts about the changing form of the book, it is a reminder of the unique value of the printed book – it can be personalized.

Seamus also publicly celebrated his birthday this week. He will be 70 in a couple of weeks. I wish I could give him such a precious gift too, but all I have to offer in return is hope – hope that his encouragement will lead me to that place one day (when I am 70) where I too can present such potent encouragement to the hopeful young talent of the next generation.

Add comment March 31st, 2009

The Death of the Book? – Part II

Previously, I bemoaned technology’s shrinking of attention spans and shrinking of the book form.

Size isn’t everything; there are greater threats for the book out there.

Prescient to this article is a hot debate that broke out on Litopia this week about copyright infringement on the internet. Copyright infringement could be the greatest single contributing factor to the demise of the book. The demise I talk of (as in Part 1) is the loss of cultural significance of the book and the loss of its artistic merit in general.

Here’s how it happens. Forgive me, but I’m going replicate one of my Litopia posts here, where it is openly accessible:

Copyright is the consequence of mass distribution technologies that began with the printing press. A world without copyright means the end of the profession of writer. Without copyright there is no legal mechanism to enable monetization of artistic effort. It leaves the world filled with only amateur artists, or with potential artists who opted never to create in the first place because the time demands are too great, and the bills have to be paid.

What this would mean for the quality of artistic output in general … I think you can guess.

This is why defending copyright is so important.

If writing a damned good book becomes no longer financially viable then fewer people will make the effort to hone their craft up to publication quality. Case in point: this week, I saw one lulu.com self-publisher advertising the book with a banner ad proudly stating that it “may be the worst novel ever!” Inept art now carries with it a badge of merit! Kudos for the marketing nouse in grabbing attention with that one, but trashing your own artistic merit as a starting point, proving that selling the book is more important than what’s between the covers, says more that I ever could about where all this is going.

In a world created by copyright pirates, fewer people still will bother writing at all. So fewer artists emerge, and the quality of available books diminish.

Alternative models of reimbursement won’t help the craft much either, because the book then becomes a vehicle to sell something other than itself. How many of us, of a certain age and older, have seen the instances of quality television programming decrease over the decades because TV programmes have transformed into something little more than scaffolding to support their advertising output?

Payment of artists is the measure of how a culture values art. If we’re no longer willing to pay for it, but just want it all for free, then what does that say about the place of art in our society?

There is no conclusion yet. The publishing industry is in such flux now that even Nostradamus himself would have difficulty seeing the outcome to all this. The conclusion will only reveal itself in its own good time – in the future. For the present, writers and publishers need to stay vigilant … and defend our beloved little story book form … lest we sleepwalk into a world where it is no more.

I hope all this talk of “art” doesn’t sound pretentious. Art and business always make uncomfortable bedfellows. But these things do matter, and if not – they should – and we need to remind ourselves and others why.

Add comment March 28th, 2009

The Death of the Book? – Part 1

Book accessory
Image by Mr. Velocipede

Today is World Book Day (… albeitin the UK and Ireland only – what an oxymoron!)

With Amazon launching the Kindle 2, and sneaking Kindle ebook reader software onto the iPhone, it seems a good time to take the temperature of world opinion on the future of the book form that we celebrate so confidently this day.

Is the poor little book losing its cultural identity or – worse – its cultural significance?

In the same week that research showed social networking sites shortening children’s attention spans, Cory Doctorow warns that this aspect of the twitter generation could transform, if not destroy, the eBook.

What would The Lord of the Rings have become if Tolkien’s publisher’s son had said, “Yes, I love it Dad, and I think you should publish it … but I think he should rephrase it in 140 characters tweets that could fit on my iPhone screen.”

I fear the day when just such editorial demands will be made of authors. My feelings on the prevalent page-turning sentence fragment editorial thriller style is already documented, but how much more destructive will it be for the form when the dictates of the technology determine the style of the writing or – heaven-forbid – the form of the story? How can anything of significance or importance be constructed on such miniscule real-estate? Perhaps, as Doctorow hints, the internet and small-screen eReaders will cause a new renaissance of poetry.

Two years ago I started this blog and with it my journey towards the publishing world. The most important thing I have learned is that the publishing industry is changing – rapidly. Technological shifts combined with recessionary pressures are altering the publishing business of old. My publishing research coalesces my future approach to writing projects and even as I write this, it leaves me wondering am I getting this writing thing all wrong? Should I be reinventing myself as the world’s first haiku cyber-novelist instead?

Perhaps not.

The transformation of the book form may not be all bad. There is hope, but … I’m running out of the necessary cyber-spatial real-estate to complete my point. I’ve kept you here long enough and there are, no doubt, several important tweets demanding your attention at this very moment.

So tune in next time, brave reader, for the concluding bite-sized installment of “The Death of the Book”.

Add comment March 5th, 2009


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