The Death of the Book? – Part II

March 28th, 2009

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 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.

Entry Filed under: Observation & Musing,Publishing Industry,Writing

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