The Author Amidst Digital Armageddon
I really like my thesis topic.
I’m told it’s not exactly rare, but not exactly common either. Somewhat more unusual, I gather, is that the thesis project I considered undertaking at the very beginning of my MA is mostly what I’ve come to a close with. I count myself lucky. An early proposal for the topic for my first class at UM-Flint was titled: “From Paper to Processor: The Novel at the Onset of Digital Armageddon.”
Back in early 2009, as the Kindle was nearing release, all we heard was fire and brimstone about the future of the book: the publishers would die, taking the tried-and-true champion of the author with them; the book would be quickly pirated and widely disseminated, robbing publishers (oh, and authors too .. yeah..) of livelihood; good novels would suddenly have to wade neck-deep among unfiltered dreck in the absence of official gatekeepers; e-readers would borrow your car without refilling the gas tank; animals would rise against man now that they could secret away digitized manifestos underneath their beds and food bowls for reading in stolen moments.
Being that I enjoy reading and hope to eventually finish writing a book and see it through to publication, I must have taken too seriously the collective freakout that the paper book was on borrowed time, and thus confused the novel as a concept with its medium of dissemination. So my title reflected the message I was hearing: the Novel at the Onset of Digital Armageddon.
- While the author won’t go away, what must they give up and what will they gain?
- How will commercial definitions of “profitable” be refined, and what share of profits will authors come to expect?
- How will piracy be tolerated, systemically and individually. What examples can book publishers draw from the music and game industries.
- What kind of independent market will take off? For example, there are many inexpensive and free titles available to e-readers to help swell their catalogs, but what system can we develop to better match a reader to their interests as the sheer volume of available work explodes?
- How does the role of author as an artist (think ar-teest) stand to be redefined? Will the physical novel remain as an ivory tower for only the truly accomplished and celebrated authors to isolate themselves in?