FutureText Part Two – Publishers, Authors and the changing book

Eoin Purcell

From Consciousness to publishers survival
Yesterday I wrote about consciousness and how the “new” consciousness we see rising is an illusion in my view. It was all kicked off by this article and so it makes sense to go back to the elements in there that I really agree with . For instance:

I foresee a time coming soon when the main edition of most books will be the download, and bookshops will then be the equivalent of vinyl record shops. New and exciting writing, the stuff that changes the world, will be published via the internet. Will the young share their reading matter as today they share music and films?

A book is a book is a book
So lets look at that. Some time ago I wrote a three part series on the future of books. In A book is a book is a book I wrote:

If an e-reader appears that quickly changes the market and shifts content online and into digital form as rapidly as music sales have shifted, traditional publishers will be faced with enormous difficulties. Their print runs will need to slide, their high costs need to be removed and eventually some books will simply no longer be printed in books and will remain exclusively as eBooks.

Which of course is no major deal. Why on earth should publishers worry? Does it really matter if a book is sold as a paper product, as an audio CD, as a downloadable eBook or as part of a subscription based updatable online book, or indeed some combination of these?

And I still believe that. Publishers should be platform neutral and content orientated. We should be book publishers, website publishers, subscription sellers and database managers. we should nugget-ise and sell content as granularly as we can in as many formats and for as many platforms as we can.

What about the authors
Nothing in that presents a problem for our current discussion but it does mean that publishers and authors need to change and Mark hits that point quite nicely here:

For a commissioning editor, the pressing question is this: when most books are sold on the net as downloads, how will this change their content?

But Mark thinks that this will spell the end of the Novel. I’m not so sure about that, as I said yesterday. But, as I wrote in the second part of the series I mentioned above, the move towards digital liberates writers and will definitely lead to changes:

we now operate in a world where sales do not have to be of the traditional type (bricks and mortar stores). Authors can sell books themselves on Amazon or EBay or Lulu.com or in fact their own website if they like. They can use POD and self publishing just like Skint Writer is and capture the best part of the value that traditionally went to a publisher. Or you can post it to a blog and build audience like Lee on Mortal Ghost is here.

What’s more you can package your content in any variety of ways. Make a podcast or your poetry and push it on iTunes. Act out your play and upload it to YouTube or your preferred location. It is easy to do it all now and to do it well. Maybe the cost of a decent designer or video editor will take a summer to save for or a winter of being cold avoiding buying new jumpers but the costs are so achievable it is exceptional.

The point is that publishing is no longer just about books and even more it is no longer about waiting for a publisher to decide your work is good enough for print. Options abound and as more and more writers realise that they will take advantage of it.

That could be very important and it brings to mind something Blathnaid Healy wrote in an as yet unpublished piece on music and patrons:

Internet digital downloads reduces the role of the record companies who have essentially become the modern-day ‘patrons’ of music.

Music like other arts, because of the cost to produce it, has always needed a backer or a patron. For years record companies have fronted the cash for bands to record and distribute their music and for this patronage bands have surrendered some artistic control. But all that is changing because of readily available recording software and distribution platforms on the Internet.

If major bands like Radiohead continue to release full-length digital copies of their albums online we can predict the effect it might have on the record companies, but what about the music. Will it change?

In high art or ‘classical’ music when the role of the patron was reduced it had a big impact on the type of music being created: structure, melody and rhythm were all experimented with.

Authors and publishers will change
So where will it all go? We know I disagree with Mark’s vision:

The great new literary form that will replace the novel will, I believe, arise on the net and will take on its wild frontier spirit, its intellectual risk-taking, its two fingers at academic control-freakery. But it will also help forge a new form of consciousness in a much more fundamental way that has to do with the form of the internet.

Because we are all plugging ourselves into one great electronic mind, we will gradually lose the sense of each being shut off in a private mental space, as esoteric philosophy has long predicted. Our mental space will be out there and, as with Facebook, everyone else will have access to it. I don’t know what this new literary form will be, but I suspect it will be co-operative and as slinkily responsive to whoever is looking at it as Schroedinger’s cat. I can’t wait.

Is there another option? The Editor’s Corner at the Book Depository (always on the ball), Mark Thwaite points us at Martyn Daniels’ post about the future of books on the Bookseller Association blog that talks about where the industry is going:

The paper book will not disappear but the current economic publishing model and value chain will change. The only certainty is that there will still be authors and there still will be readers but everything in between is up for grabs.

I think Martyn is right
Everything is up for grabs. Our consciousness is not changing like Mark suggests but there is something big happening publishers have no god given right to survive.

I kinda hope we do though because I really love what I do!

FutureText Part One – Books and a changing social consciousness

Eoin Purcell

Emma over at Snowblog set some homework. She asked people to read this piece by Mark Booth over at The Independent online and to discuss it. I’ve much to say on it but for today I’d like to hit on CONSCIOUSNESS. To give you a good idea of what it’s about here’s a quote:

The great new literary form that will replace the novel will, I believe, arise on the net and will take on its wild frontier spirit, its intellectual risk-taking, its two fingers at academic control-freakery. But it will also help forge a new form of consciousness in a much more fundamental way that has to do with the form of the internet.

There really is much more to the piece, a lot of which I agree with. For instance Booth talks about the impact the internet is having on reading and the nature of our leisure time. There is truth in that. We are spending more time reading online and that is changing the form. But how far does that go?

Let’s ask Stephen Fry
A man who up until two months ago I’d have thought as unknowledgeable about these things as most but how wrong has he proved me and anyone else who thought like me (just read this post to confirm his wonderful geekery).

Commenting on the strange beast that is Facebook (which I like for status updates, Warbook and the odd photo but otherwise use it very little) he wrote the other day a most apt line:

But let the rise of social networking alert you to the possibility that, even in the futuristic world of the net, the next big thing might just be a return to a made-over old thing.

And therein lies the rub
The assumption that Mark Booth makes is that when there was no way of recording it, there was no internal narrative in peoples’ minds, that they were somehow not at the same level of consciousness or at least that that narrative was different:

In the esoteric view, consciousness has changed in a much more radical way than historians generally allow, and the importance of the great novels of the 18th and 19th centuries is the role they played in forging the sense we all have – and take for granted – that we have an interior narrative. If people experienced this before the novel, if they earlier saw their lives as micro-histories with turning points, dilemmas and meaningful structures, they left no record of it, and, according to the esoteric account, they had no inkling of it except in sermons.

I’d suggest strongly that this is not the case
Just think it through with me. For that to be true we have to assume that people in the past were not like us. That their consciousness was somehow of a different nature. And that situation was caused by their lack of access to the written word, and specifically the novel.

You’d have to accept too that the epics of Homer didn’t build an internal narrative for those who heard them or the folk tales that have gone unrecorded had no role to play in building consciousness and the oral histories or the plays, or even Beowulf with its powerful messages and its heroic themes offered no grist for an internal narrative mill.

Funnily enough Nassim Nicholas Taleb has some excellent stuff about exactly this type of situation in The Black Swan, he calls it Silent Evidence and offers the Phoenicians as a great example of it. It was long believed that they were commercially obsessed and did not use the alphabet they invented for creative purposes. Of course it now appears that they simply used perishable materials to record their creative impulses.

if we can mistake destroyed art for no art, then I suspect we cannot be sure about the hidden consciousness of oral cultures and pre-text cultures. I suspect that the internal narratives we take for granted now existed in those cultures. Perhaps the priorities were framed by different horizons and paradigms, perhaps experiences were more important than knowledge in building that consciousness. There is simply no way to know how they formed, how different they were or indeed how similar.

So you see, I don’t think Mark Booth’s new consciousness is anything other than an old consciousness ‘made-over’ as a new thing*.

I’ll think this through again but I’m pretty sure I won’t change my mind.

*That’s not to invalidate any of his thinking on the direction of publishing technology! But more on that tomorrow.