Category: Technology

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.
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How Much is Technology Affecting the Publishing Industry?

This is a question I plan on spending a few weeks researching because this not only because it fascinates me and relates to my future, but also because it isn’t a simple answer. In this post, I will present two resources, one from each side. However, I plan on spending some time finding out which side is more accurate during the upcoming weeks.

Is Google Making Us Stupid?” & “The Publishing Industry Isn’t Dead — But It Is Evolving

Perhaps, this is not a question of “how much,” but rather, “to what degree” is the publishing industry effected by technology. However, I pose this argument as a matter of how much because on the surface of this issue, on the surface of how much technology has or hasn’t changed altogether, this is a question that comes up first and needs to be addressed, to some degree.

Both articles mentioned a common point, which is that readers now don’t have the patience to sit and read long content. However, “Is Google Making Us Stupid,” claims this is so, and “The Publishing Industry Isn’t Dead — But It Is Evolving,” claims this is false. (For convenience, I will refer to, “Is Google Making Us Stupid” as article 1, and “The Publishing Industry Isn’t Dead — But It Is Evolving” as article 2.) I find it ironic though that Article 1 spends a great amount of time talking about how much Carr, the author, and others quoted in the article, cannot sit and read long content like they used to, meanwhile the article is quite lengthy itself. I myself found it quite tiresome and tedious to get through although the argument is interesting. Now, though, interesting doesn’t always cut it.

Carr advances his article by arguing that the way we read now is a different kind of reading and that “we are not only what we read, we are how we read.” The way reading is done now has changed. And to this point, the author of Article 2, Hyrkin, also agrees. However, he sees this as an advantage.

In Article 2, Hyrkin says that technology has changed much of our world, but the publishing industry is changing with it and doing quite well, too. He says, that on the contrary, people are demanding longer content, and this is due mainly to the ability to take our content on the go on tablets, e-readers, and the like.

The disagreement between the two is natural. It’s based on who they work for and/or what they’re advocating, personal views, or simply a time difference. Nicholas Carr published this article in the summer issue of 2008 in The Atlantic, and Joe Hyrkin published his in June 2014 on The Next Web. This is not to say that technology wasn’t as advanced and involved in our lives in 2008 as it was in 2014; however, the change seems backwards. Article 1, which claims that we don’t want longer content, came out before article 2 with the opposite view. Either we have adapted to the technology and embraced the longer content which for a while we were resisting, or these views are based on different sets of data.

My point is not which one is right (because obviously there’s more than one view on how much technology is affecting the publishing industry), but rather which one is closer to “reality”. There might be data saying that the publishing industry and writers are benefiting from technology and the changes it’s brought, but the majority of the people feel that that’s false. Article 2 suggests that it’s a matter of perception. My question is why is there a gap between the perception that technology is hurting the industry and the “truth”(yet to be proved) that it’s not? Hyrkin writes, “Consumers already have the wherewithal to read long-form content on-the-go, right in the palms of their hands. New research indicates that three in 10 adults read an e-book last year and half own a tablet or e-reader.” My immediate reaction to this statement is that I know a handful, at least, of people who have tablets, kindles, nooks, etc, but don’t use them, and if they do, it’s not for reading. I’m not convinced that our attention span has not been affected by technology constantly in our faces. I do think, though, that there is a balance, and without one, the perceived might never meet reality. This balance comes through in Carr’s idea that we are reading differently rather than less.

This is an endlessly fascinating binary between technology and writing or just artistry in general. As my blog title suggests, could there have been a time (perhaps not so long ago) where artistry “died”? By “died” I specifically mean that now it’s in an “afterlife,” a new stage? Could it have changed in its course, become completely different from what it was before, whether for better or worse, took on a completely new and distinct form? I hope to find clearer beliefs in the next few weeks; I restrain from using the word “answers” because there might not be one answer, one right or wrong, though these articles have definitely wet my appetite for some.

Works Cited

Carr, Nicholas. “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 1 July 2008. Web. 19 Oct. 2015.
Hyrkin, Joe. “The Publishing Industry Isn’t Dead, But It IS Evolving.” The Next Web. The Next Web, 21 June 2014. Web. 19 Oct. 2015.