actually, I think it's more of an opportunity to get rid of the middle man (agents, publishers) and novelists to make all the money they have worked to earn. I think it's time that novelists, like musicians, start to learn to use the tools to promote themselves and sell their work without the people that suck all the income and incentive out of creativity. Git'er done!Great point, Noelle. The internet has shown itself to be a great democratizer of information; people without elite access to distribution can now get their materials to the entire world. It will also be important in the coming years for writers to get savvy about using the internet the way musicians have, with the iTunes store for example.
After the jump: more thoughts on whether the novel is dying, and more of your comments.
At the same time, I'm still worried about this democratizing of information because it opens the floodgates of writing and may end up lowering the quality of the novels we read. We need skilled editors and publishers to evaluate, to pick and choose and also revise, to hone and polish works so that they're at their best. When anyone can put a novel up online, very few of those are going to be rigorously worked over the way most great novels have been.
Mary Lou Wynegar addresses the survival of the book itself as an object:
I can understand why many people would use a Kindle (I myself would love to own one), or use twitter, E-books etc,.. But as a woman who didn't get her first laptop until my late 40's, I will always cherish a good book in my hands. One I can carry into a Dr's waiting room, or lying in my bed reading to my grandchildren snuggled, one on each side of me.This is a point that a lot of book lovers are bringing up: they can't see themselves owning a Kindle because it doesn't compare to the tactile pleasures of turning a page, holding and smelling a book. I agree there: I love technology and gadgetry, but I still wouldn't want to let go of the physical experience of holding and reading a book. Staring at a Kindle screen's grey on grey screen does nothing for me.
It will be interesting to see if Apple's coming iPad will significantly improve the experience of e-reading. My bet is that even if the iPad doesn't do it, technology will continue to improve, and eventually paper books may become rare. Not for a long time, though, and I don't think they'll ever fully leave. They're just too elegant a solution.
Eva is another supporter of the internet as the great equalizer:
I don't think it's as bleak as the four horsemen would have us believe. Writing has become more egalitarian. If you have something to say, chances are you're going to find an audience on the internet. It may be a small audience, and it may not pay, but you're writing, someone's reading and you can get instant feedback.Thanks, Eva. I understand what you're saying and I also agree that it's not all so bleak as I may have made it sound for the sake of drama! But while everyone can publish on the internet, that's precisely what worries me -- anyone can publish there. The great novels of the past did not rise to the top through committee agreement, and when you have a mass-appeal system acting as the only system to give writing attention, then it's the bland, familiar, safe pieces that tend to be the most successful. It's the pieces that espouse a conservative world view, or satisfy some loudly vocal niche's opinion, or cleverly imitates something that has already been done. Good writing needs champions; it needs people to fight for it, people to hone and polish and see the germ of brilliance within. I don't know if the internet gives us that opportunity.
On the other hand, there's really not too much point in fighting the flood. Rik Scott said:
Watching the hubbub over the iPad, seeing GOBBLE, er, GOOGLE's attempt to grab up all books in the world, I am still not ready to quit. I own an eBook, and while I don't use it as much as I thought I would (preferring paper), it is cool indeed to have over a hundred books in my hand. All the complaining we do about the encroachment of technology on paper publishing will make no difference in the long run. A good number of people reading this have never lived in a world without computers. Time marches forwardThanks for your comment, Rik. It's true that I'm one of those young people who used a computer starting when I was four years old. They may have been blurry and black and white, but by the time I was thirteen, the internet was a dominant force in the world. I know my development has been shaped by it. At the same time, I think it is worth fighting not to shut these things down, but to keep innovating and figuring out ways to get the best of the internet rising to the top and becoming accessible to all.
Thank you everyone, for your comments! Next week I'll respond to comments about getting your M.F.A. So feel free to email me with your comments on that topic soon.