The internet is a writer’s medium. Anyone can publish absolutely anything, and therein lies part of the problem. In the warm glow of a CRT screen, what is it that you want to read? No matter how you twist and turn, no laptop will ever be as personally comfortable as a cold book. If we’re ever going to form a decent revolution out of this, as so many people want, a few more things need to fall into place.
I like to look at how the last publishing revolution went to get a few clues as to what we need.
When Johannes Gutenburg invented movable type, the change was not immediate. The population wasn’t used to bound books as a commodity, and literacy wasn’t common. It took Martin Luther and his Bible to push the new technology, and he had an axe to grind. More accurately, it was the northern German nobles who backed the Reformation that got the Bibles out there. They wanted to be free of Papal influence, and the press was their ticket to consolidated power. Once past the 30 Year’s War, they were free. The press was one instrument of their new power. It beat the tar out of monks recopying stuff over and over for getting the word out.
The internet has all the same promise to put the good word (of some kind) into everyone’s hands. But what is the interest that will do it? Who will benefit?
Today’s publishing industry is quite sick. The profitability is not what it used to be. The structure of printed, bound matter sales requires the publishers to take back what is sold, offering them on a kind of consignment. Lately they have been taking back a third of everything printed to be remaindered or repulped. The internet could change all of that if it were more of a reader’s medium than it is a writer’s medium.
Think of the publishing industry as something of a pre-Trent Catholic Church. They dispense the important dictums of culture as they see fit, and control the means of production just like the church ran the monasteries. The romantic concept of a cultural revolution, which is that you simply have to show people a better way and they will flock to it, is silly. What is the interest that will push it over the top?
There’s only so much that the Reformation internet honestly gives its readers. The difficulties of the medium demand 800 words or less for anyone to reasonably be expected to wade through it. The volume of stuff puts the burden on search engines and “Best Of” lists to find the parts that are worth the eyestrain.
There simply has to be something more before this becomes a viable way to publish what can be considered “Literature”. To find that, we have to find the interest that is willing to take on publishing as we know it and create publishing as we imagine it.
Meanwhile, we write. Those of us who enjoy coming up with new and different ways to look at the world can throw it out in places like this. I’m far from wealthy enough to lead the revolution, but I’d make a happy footsoldier. Hasta la Victoria Siempre!