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?