Fate of the Book: Fear Not, Beware, Some Great Art & One Happy Man

by on November 10, 2010

 

Is the (paper) book dead?  What is its fate?  Will writers survive?   Will the next generation read?

And if so, which platform/reader will they use? These questions, along with related topics (blogging, how to promote your book using social media etc.) were hot  panel topics at the book festivals I recently attended, rivalling the staples such  as the fiction non/fiction divide and how to turn your  own experiences into  a story.   Writers and other professionals dissected trends, ranted, doubted, pronounced, prevaricated,  eulogised. Some said, Fear not: surf the digital tsunami, open yourself to the opportunities and creative potential of the medium – one way or another, stories are our lifeblood and they will evolve and survive. Others said, Beware: writers and readers are being being dumbed-down and forced into a model of production and consumption which suits manufacturers and distributors,  rather than bodies and minds… Perhaps, some suggested, the way out of this techno-tangle is to regenerate our oral traditions – perhaps the internet  will even help us do so? Actually, others insisted, it’s both: Fear not and Beware, simultaneously.

After a few days of this, my feeling  (and yes, my newer titles will soon be  e-books, but no, I don’t yet have a reader: ipad, too heavy;  Kobo, too tacky; Kindle, better – but still, like all of them,  too stiff, and too expensive)…   My feeling is that this dizzying blend of excitement and anxiety,  this concern with the mechanics  and balance sheet of the book, not the book itself,  not what is inside it, is  enough of a wind-up to drive me either to utter, hysterical distraction –– or else, right back to  work.  Back to a desk in a quiet room, just what Joan Didion called these pictures in my head,  which is where all this started, once upon a time.

But I do love what some visual artists are doing with books:

http://morfis.wordpress.com/2010/09/23/creatively-stunning-book-art/

And at least one person I met whilst at the Vancouver Festival did not seem at all confused as to the Fate of the Book. Adam, at Oscar’s Art Books, enjoys his work on the  Espresso 2.0 book machine!  It prints  small print runs, or even single copies of  books that are in the public domain, or available on licence ,  or assembled from a variety of sources (e.g. textbooks), and likewise he can turn  your own file into a bound book in matter of days. The various legalities and licences may be frustrating,  and sometimes the machine is a temperamental –  but, Adam says, dust on the sensors can be blown off,  and jammed paper can be tugged free.  Each book takes about twenty minutes to produce. He finds it’s best to hang out by the machine and watch, serenely, just in case…  On the one hand, global content and global distribution, the McDonaldsization of reading. On the other, one happy man, Adam, printing out a copy of something you really want, just for you….   These may be my last words: I  am going to my office, now.


Here’s another discussion on the topic from some people who ought to know, including my own publisher, KimMcArthur:  http://www.cbc.ca/ideas/episodes/2010/11/30/blue-metropolis-bleu—the-future-of-the-book-1/


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Bruce Elkin November 10, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Nice take on a complex situation, Kathy. I agree that it’s both “fear not and beware.” Don’t dismiss the new, learn how it works and see if it works for me and my readers. Being a Luddite won’t help.

And I loved the book art. Got me thinking how, when I browse old bookstores, I flip open some of the oldest books, hoping to find that the pages have been cut out and no one but me has discovered the stash of $1000 bills hidden inside. Ah, fantasies, sometimes they keep us going.

Great stuff! Thx!

Kathy November 18, 2010 at 9:38 am

Bruce, you have me thinking. Am I Luddite? My first thoughts were defensive: I’m not against the new, but I’m not automatically for it, either. I want to look at the pros and cons, know who benefits, etc… Then, a friend pointed out that while Luddite tends to be a pejorative term, the Luddites were NOT actually opposed to the new, but rather, fighting for fairness and justice as to how that technology was used. Which is a very different thing.
Here’s a quote from the Wiki debate:

“My understanding of the Luddites is that they revolted not because of new technology, but because they lost control of the technology. Remember that these were crafts people who made their living by making fabric/garments. They owned their looms and so owned the means of production. The new technology was owned by the megacorporations of the day and concentrated the ownership of the means of production into literally a few hands. Thus the “Luddites” lost control of the means of production and so lost their means or making a living. While they could (and probably did end up) working in the factories, they still lost their independence and control. This was the real reason they took to smashing the looms of the factories – they correctly saw them as the competition that would end their businesses. I am quite sure the Luddites would have been happy to continue making fabric on the new industrial looms IF they could have ownership, or at least part-ownership, of the means of production.”

Writers in Canada are faced with very similar issues today, and as in the struggles against Bill C-32 (copyright amendment) are fighting for control of their work..

But does it HELP to be Luddite? Hard to say. The industrial revolution rolled on, a few factor-owners became rich, and many exhausted workers did not, and died young. No doubt many Luddites felt bitter and defeated. Yet they stood up for what they believed to be fair, and, in time, the labour movement grew and made some gains…

That said, no two stories are ever quite the same. Perhaps we need a new word for now.

I might well look into all this some more – thanks, Bruce.

Bruce Elkin November 18, 2010 at 9:49 am

Good thinking, Kathy. When I said, “don’t be a Luddite” it was directed at me, affirming what you’d said about “fear not and beware.” Reminding myself not to reject things I don’t understand. Your take on what the Luddites were actually standing up for is illuminating, and useful. And I agree that we might need a new word. Good stuff! Thanks!

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