Saturday, October 3, 2009
Jim Baen always used to say that we worked in a declining industry, writing fiction that is, and it is a fact that the purchasing of novels has been in steady decline for some time, at least in the English-speaking world. So what future is there for the would be novelist.
I would like to drift off subject before coming back to the point. Lily Allen, with the certainty of youth, recently created a stir in the UK by publishing a diatribe against file sharers as destroying British Music by making life harder for new artists. Her argument fell apart somewhat when it turned out that Allen had pirated clips from other artists to use in her mix tapes. Ah well.
The music industry is a modern creation that arose because of new technology. Prior to recording technology, there were musicians and audiences. Technology allowed fewer and fewer musicians to make greater and greater revenues. That is how mass media works. It also created a whole new inustry of suits who were essentially parasitic on music. Now technology is destroying the music industry because computers work by making copies, infinite copies. Music is not being destroyed. It is simply returning to musicians playing to live audiences.
The novel industry has undergone a similar, if slower, trajectory. The printing press and globalisation have allowed fewer and fewer authors to make higher and higher revenues. The same Dan Brown novel is on sale at every damn airport and beach hut in the world, and yet overall sales decline.
So the question remains, does the decline in the fiction publishing industry herald the end of fiction or are we merely entering a new way to tell stories through digital media?
The pic, incidentally, is of Royal Holloway College, London University, in the spring of this year.