Month: October 2015

Technology and Publishing: Part IV

I think it’s extremely important to distinguish between the different interests and different aspects of writing / publishing that are being affected. Throughout these articles I’ve shared in the past few weeks, I have talked about: the writer, the actual physical book, the publisher, and publishing industry (the last two of which are not the same). I have previously clumped them all together though as I was learning about all of the components and getting a feel for what exactly is happening with regards to technological advancements. However, in this article, I plan to distinguish between them all and talk about which are being affected how. The last two texts, at least for now, that I will share on this topic are, “Digital Truths Traditional Publishers Don’t Want to Hear,” an article by Barry Eisler, and, “The Future of the Book,” a mini series of essays broken into five chapters published on The Economist, whom I will refer to as the publisher.  

The first realization that I was lumping all the different components together came when I read Eisler’s article. He points out that “publishing isn’t dying,” but publishers are and will if they aren’t willing to evolve. I found this extremely interesting because I hadn’t thought of them as completely two separate entities before. It’s very true, though, they are intertwined but stand alone simultaneously. Publishing content in the traditional way, meaning sharing with others, whether authors are paid for it or not, will never cease to exist. However, as Eisler talks about for quite some time, “Because of digital, legacy publishing, which used to be a necessity, is now only potentially useful.” Eisler also distinguishes very clearly what publishers do and what is necessary. He lists the services that publishers provide to authors: editorial, copyediting, proofreading, jacket design, printing, and marketing, all bundled with distribution. Nevertheless, all of this is becoming optional with online publication, e-books, and the newly self-publishing method. “We have to be careful not to conflate publishing services with the entities that have traditionally provided them,” (Eisler). So these services are available, but have become optional because of technology.

Writing, as I have spoken extensively about, also will never cease to exist; however, the ways in which it exists have been altered (i.e. Twitter, blogging, etc.), and writing, as a profession especially, is up for debate as to whether or not it can withstand the new advancements and the monetary changes. Lastly, the physical book: though we are moving away from it, I believe there’s still a long while before it becomes obsolete.

 The Economist has written it’s first chapter in this essay on the actual book and where it’s headed, and I believe this applies for the entire essay. The Economist, in chapter one, isn’t talking about the writer or the publisher — to some degree, they’re talking about publishing, but they are generally focused on the physical book. The first chapter uses Cicero’s de Officiis as the main example. This chapter discusses the many different media this text has gone through over the years of its publication, to which The Economist states:

But to see technology purely as a threat to books risks missing a key point. Books are not just “tree flakes encased in dead cow”, as a scholar once wryly put it. They are a technology in their own right, one developed and used for the refinement and advancement of thought. And this technology is a powerful, long-lived and adaptable one.

It goes on to say that there was the purpose of having private thoughts and pleasures when reading a book. However, technology can be used now to share thoughts, meaning, feelings about a given text. This is a very positive way to look at technology, the benefit that it gives readers. It allows the world to, in a sense, become smaller because thoughts from across the world can be shared instantly. The chapter concludes with, “The private joys of the book will remain; new public pleasures are there to be added.” In this respect, technology is a beneficial medium for books. However, this is just books we’re talking about not the whole spectrum of publishing and it’s components, discussed earlier. Also, it’s important to keep in mind that this is a discussion about what degree this is changing publishing, as I mentioned in one of the first posts.

To conclude, the four components mentioned (books, the writer, publishing, and publishers) are all being changed throughout this development of technology. I think for the most part, publishers are taking the hardest hit, following that, are books, and then writers. However, I am the least concerned with publishing because it’s still thriving, but simply in a different form. The fact that publishing has changed doesn’t seem to really cause any damage. However, this doesn’t seem true for the other three components. Of course, all of these will survive, but they might be compromised. Everything comes to an equilibrium at some point, and whether that “homeostasis” is something that we are satisfied with in the future or not is a different story.

Works Cited

Eisler, Barry. “The Digital Truths Traditional Publishers Don’t Want to Hear.” The Guardian. The Guardian News and Media, 29 Apr. 2013. Web. 15 Oct. 2015.

“The Future of the Book.” The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, 8 Oct. 2014. Web. 15 Oct. 2015.

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Technology and the Publishing Industry: Part III

Last week’s post was depressing in many ways, but gave more insight on the negative effects of technology on the publishing industry and addressed the most important piece: to what extent. So for this post, I will be discussing an article that is, as suggested by the title, more uplifting than the last. It was published in 2013 by Evan Hughes on The New Republic.

The page’s title is, “The Publishing Industry is Thriving,” although the article‘s title is, “Books Don’t Want to Be Free”. They are separate titles referring to two different things, but it feels as though either one could have been this article’s title. The subtitle reads, “How publishing escaped the cruel fate of other culture industries.”

So the titles and headings all seem very promising, until I began reading. It’s not so much that the publishing industry is still thriving or doing so well there’s no need to worry. What this article is falsely advertising is that the publishing industry, compared to other industries, is doing okay for the time being, not even amazing. The article was not all bad news, as Hughes says,

At the individual level, everyone in the trade—whether executive, editor, agent, author, or bookseller—faces threats to his or her livelihood: self-publishing, mergers and “efficiencies,” and, yes, the suspicious motives of Amazon executives. But the book itself is hanging on and even thriving.

Hughes compares the publishing industry to the music, film, and journalism industries. No wonder, in this perspective, books are thriving. However, he never claims that the industry is not facing it’s fair share of inevitable decline or that compared to industries which have actually become better through technology, the publishing industry is doing well.

However, on a more uplifting note, he continues on to say that although technology has most certainly depredated from the three aforementioned industries, in the publishing industry, the entirety of a text is only given once the customer pays the asking price. This directly contradicts the viewpoint of Morrison, whose argument I discusses last week. Morrison points out that many people, with the new freedom of e-books, can now pirate those for free, in turn driving the prices down.

Hughes acknowledges that there’s more to this industry than merely the cost of producing and paying for the production of a book. He says, in the following paragraph,

Reading never depended too much on sensual verisimilitude, only a mental leap from the words to the ideas they represent. The book is so low-tech, it’s hard for technology to degrade it.

This seems, to some degree, to be true. But to think more critically of what Hughes says casually here: technology has somehow succeeded into making print less practical and usable than it used to be. When every student, for instance, has a laptop, Kindle, Nook, or tablet, it’s almost counterintuitive to print out a reading, or to buy a paper/hardback book. Perhaps Hughes is not directly speaking of the physicality of a book, here, but it is a huge part of the degradation of the publishing industry. Yes, text that is published online is just as viable and valid as a physical print copy. But the art of publishing and the art of written word, the art of reading when it’s not surrounded by other contexts (the rhetoric of a website) all gets lost when the physical book becomes obsolete. And who wants to waste paper and their money on printing?

Hughes continues to talk about libraries, to which I had to stop reading for a moment. It’s sad to think about how vital libraries used to be just a generation ago. There was no Google or Internet, there was no where else to get information but the library. Whereas today, libraries have also become obsolete in that the most they’re used for is avid readers and people who need a quiet place, but have no intention of looking for or using any of the books in the library. His point here is that books there are free — but what he might not recognize is that books there have probably not been updated in a while. Moreover, he disagrees with the prediction (made in 2010) that book piracy will skyrocket.

Hughes seems to be in favor of e-book, to which he demonstrates the profit margin (at 75%). For paper and hard backs, the profit margin is 41%. He favors this because “publishers can charge much less, but make much more,” the title of the image provided reads. So it feels as though people with views parallel to Hughes’ seem to care more about the profit margin and the ability to keep the industry going, even barely, than they do about preserving the art of reading, physical books, and the artistry of the publishing industry and the writing industry as it was before technology.

I also found this article titled, “50 things that are being killed by the internet,” and for some reason, it was less depressing than the last two I mentioned. Though it doesn’t directly speak about the publishing or writing industry, I thought it would be a fun read to look through.

Works Cited
Hughes, Evan. “Books Don’t Want to Be Free.” The New Republic. The New Republic, 8 Oct. 2013. Web. 13 Oct. 2015.
Moore, Matthew. “50 Things That Are Being Killed by the Internet.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 4 Sept. 2009. Web. 13 Oct. 2015.

Technology and the Publishing Industry: Part II

In my post last week, I mentioned two articles which argue two different sides of the same issue. One article says that technology will overpower the publishing industry, and even now, is changing the way we read. The other argues that readers and consumers are actually demanding longer content due to technology making it possible to take it on the go. I was neither convinced that either were right, nor was I satisfied with only one person’s opinion for each side. This week, I found an article titled, “Are Books Dead, and Can Authors Survive,” written by Ewan Morrison. This article is a brief version of the arguement he made at the Edinburgh International Book Festival (published in August 2011).

In his argument, Morrison starts by making it clear he thinks writing as a profession is dead. He states, “The digital revolution will not emancipate writers or open up a new era of creativity, it will mean that writers offer up their work for next to nothing or for free” (Morrison).  This is not to say writing is dead, but anyone who wants to make a living of it won’t be able to do so. He makes this point, that paper will soon be gone, based on statistics pulled from widely different sources, all claiming that digital delivery is drowning all types of physical content.

Morrison poses an important question: will authors be able to make a living of writing throughout the digital era? And he attempts to answer this question based on history. He says, “The economic framework that supports artists is as important as the art itself; if you remove one from the other then things fall apart. And this is what is happening now.”

Morrison, here, is tempting his readers to believe that artistry as a whole wouldn’t be able to survive if there were no advances for artists to do their work. He says this is precisely though what is happening in this era. Authors are taking risks publishing their work through publishing industries, drowning in debt in hopes that they will make a big break. There are little to no advances from the publishing industries. Publishers are focusing more on short term profits.

And this is where self publishing comes into play and gains popularity — but that is for a later discussion. Self publishing leads to Morrison’s discussion of the long tail.

In simple terms, the long tail derives its name from graphs of sales against number of products. Whereas throughout the 20th century publishers concentrated on selling only a few heavily promoted “hits” or “bestsellers” in bulk, digital shopping has meant that what was originally a tail-off in sales, has now become increasingly profitable. Rather than selling, say, 13m copies of one Harry Potter book, a long tail provider can make the same profits by selling 13m different “obscure”, “failed'” and “niche” books (Morrison).

Morrison, in the last section of his argument, draws the connection between the long tail and sweatshops, claiming that the long tail is the sweatshop of the future.

Morrison continues to talk about the “Free Revolution” and provides several examples about the “financial downturn in the digital industries,” including home videos, music, computer games, newspapers, and the internet. The downward slide towards free content comes from both consumers demand for discounts and their ability to pirate material, which brings the realization that it’s ridiculous to pay for e-books and other content which is available for free, legal or not.

The final “answer”or solution that Morrison comes to at the conclusion of his argument is that the way to get past this is by demanding that writers get paid a living wage for their work, strengthening the bond between writers and publishers, who must learn to take a long term risk, and restrain from giving into the temptation for “quick-fix consumerism”.

After reading through Morrison’s argument, I have found that it is much more stable and provided much more evidence towards his claims. Though this article was somewhat depressing to read through, this is something to consider seriously. The technological industry, if you will, is in a much more complex relationship with the publishing industry (and the writing industry — which are not the same) than one can imagine. No, there is no simple solution or answer, but Morrison provides his own. However, as for me (and this project), there is still more research to be done. The ultimate question I face is towards artistry as a whole and whether or not technology is destroying it, or simply, to what degree?

Works Cited
Morrison, Ewan. “Are Books Dead, and Can Authors Survive?” The Guardian. The Guardian News and Media, 22 Aug. 2011. Web. 7 Oct. 2015.