It is an accepted truism that those of us with high artistic aptitudes often lack business aptitude and vice-versa. Many writers bemoan the necessity of and time spent on promotion. We want to write. Most of us do not enjoy the aspects of our craft that involve promotion, marketing and the non-creative side of our profession.
Are you addicted? Did it start long ago with your “Crackberry?” You remember, people were running around with a “Blackberry” glued to their face. It was email — 24/7.
We had no idea what was coming.
Now it’s the smartphone — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, email. Everything demands our attention. And, it’s not just our mobile device. You sit typing away at the laptop or desktop and you’re looking for that opportunity to check your email or look at updates on Facebook.
Every month or so we get another outcry against self-published fiction. Some are aimed at the Beast of Amazon, destroyer of standards and scourge of literature, like George Packer’s bitter lament in The New Yorker (“Cheap words,” February 17, 2014) or Thad McIlroy’s anxious number-crunching on his blog (“How amazon destroyed the publishing ecosystem,” March 12, 2014.) Others, like Donald Maass, rail against self-publishing in general, on the grounds that it produces far more chaff than wheat (Writer Unboxed, “The new class system,” February 5, 2014.)
This dire transformation, this destruction of literature, is blamed on new technologies which have made it far too easy to produce a book, drastically lowering the necessary barriers to publication that have kept the riff-raff out for centuries.
The book, as we know it, has been around for a very long time.
Here in the West we date printing from roughly 1440 when Gutenberg invented the printing press, however the Chinese invented movable clay type even earlier – in 1041. So that’s about 1000 years of print.
That long tradition of print on paper was broken long before the invention of the Kindle – think about reading, and writing, on personal computers – but mass market books that do not rely on paper most definitely date from the introduction of the Kindle.
None of this is news to us. One way or another, none of us would be self-publishing if not for the Kindle, and Amazon. But now that we’ve made the leap to non-paper books, we have to accept that the changes have only just begun. Print lasted for a thousand years. Ereaders are changing every year, and taking the whole idea of books along with them.