Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Edinburgh International Book Festival | Guardian Debate | NOT The End of Books

The Guardian sponsored debate The End of Books at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Saturday was entertaining enough - but it missed the point.

Ewan Morrison's talk in favour of the motion – the end is nigh, etc, reproduced on guardian.com at the moment - was considered and laden with stats. But I still think his take on the issue is wrong. The other speakers concentrated on the novelty of producing an iPad app of The Waste Land and the love of holding a paperback in your hands. Both these things seem as transient as the other to me.

Digital or paper, there will always be a demand for new authors, new voices, because each generation needs to recreate the world in its own image. I wonder how many kids now will read (and watch ) A Game of Thrones instead of Lord of the Rings. How many Harry Potter fanatics have ever read The Famous Five? Ewan seemed to suggest that publishers and Amazon -- the digital publishing giant of the near future [ie evil empire] -- will simply reproduce and mash up old writing and sell it anew. New writers will soon be on the scrap heap forced to take jobs in call centres rather than follow their calling by producing potential Booker Prize winners.

Ewan even referred to Shakespeare and Dickens as if they were getting by on modest advances awarded to them simply because their work was considered (by who? The great and the good?) to be artistically worthwhile. In reality, Wills and Charles were two of the most commercially successful writers of all time. Neither would recognise the current economic realities of the publishing / literary world, but they'd want to get paid.

The attraction of digital is that it allows a writer to bypass the traditional publishing log jam. Self publishing is no longer the resort of the vain but a decent option for a new talent wanting to showcase him or herself. A few have even made good money out of self Kindle publishing -- Amanda Hocking etc. But can the trick these genre writers have pulled off be repeated in the literary fiction world?

The fact is: lit-fic simply isn’t as popular as other genres and it is hard to feel sorry for well educated, talented author wannabes who would rather spend their days in a garret writing prose no one wants to read instead of holding down a proper job. Dedicate your life to literature if you want, but do it at your own expense.

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