Wednesday, June 2, 2010
I know a little more about revolutions than normal people. My teen years were a festival of revolution and counter-revolution. To this day, I can’t hear the theme song to Green Acres without feeling unsettled and wondering who is in charge now. Green Acres? You say. Yes, indeed. You see, when the new revolution du jour took over the main television studios, the secondary – normally redistribution – studios in Porto were left to fend with what they had and avoid dead air. And what they had was ONE episode of Green Acres. So, before any announcement were made, we knew there had been a revolution and would sit around the TV, wondering what was going on and who it was who’d grabbed power this time.
(And before you decide to hum the theme song of Green Acres at me at cons, let me tell you it’s a very bad idea. So bad, in fact, my husband has stopped doing it. ‘Nough said.)
Meanwhile you’re wondering why I’m sitting here, telling you about my life. Well, I’ll explain. There is something leftover from this sort of thing. Something that longs for security – almost – at all costs and that dreads and hates unsettled futures. Something that had me in the car and buying a truckload of food an hour after the second plane hit the towers – because food in the pantry is security, you know? Something irrational and a bit feral. Something that makes me more than a little insane when I am out of contract for books, for instance. Something that perhaps hampers my career because the idea of going e-only or self-publishing anything makes me clench my hands on the seat like Athena in that flycar in Darkship Thieves.
Think of it as a psychological seismograph. I feel movements that will cause insecurity or turmoil long before most people do. And for the last five years, the publishing world has been driving me as insane as a cat on a hot tin roof.
I could feel the forces when no one else seemed to worry about them. Online buying; ebooks (I confess I expected these to take longer, mostly due to reader tech); self publishing made easy and perhaps profitable. I could feel the tremors no one else seemed to feel. I could see that bookstores were not stocking by and large what the reading public wanted. Oh, a segment of the reading public, sure. But readers are not theater goers (I don’t mean that literally. I know a lot of people read and go to movies. I’ve been known to.) There are no multitudes of them. You can’t do a “teen book” that appeals ONLY to teens and sell as much as a teen movie that appeals only to teens. Teen books, like Harry Potter, say, do best if they appeal from early readers onto elderly readers. Following the Hollywood model, where publishing – and especially distribution – pursued the new-new thing relentlessly was always part of it, but lately it had become obsessive. I could see that what I call the “name change dance” was turning readers off. (It was turning me off. It was no longer find a new author, make a friend for life. No. By the time I bought that book, my discovery was likely already unemployed or had changed names. Untraceable.)
Now the seismic shocks have become so obvious that everyone can feel them, except perhaps some publishing executives with hands over ears in the back room saying it's just the sound of running feet in the basement.
Is this good or bad? And what comes next?
Both and who knows? It will be good if publishing adapts, if publishers become brands, if they come up with creative models to shift their costs around so that it won’t matter if their print books aren’t selling and ebooks are. It could be very freeing, because readers could actually have a lot more control over what they get to read. And perhaps reading will become cool and hip and the profession of writing healthy again. It could be terrible if they don’t adapt quickly – remember most of them are giants – and fail, and nothing else grows fast enough to replace them. As readers we’ll end up having to wade through piles and piles of self-published slush to find a nugget of gold. And as writers... well... there will be no security at all.
Revolutions, after all, can be good or bad. (One of my after-effects is that I read about revolutions, compulsively.) Every revolution can be like the American revolution, the French, or even – shudder – the Russian. And the beginning is no guarantee of the end.
Right now, we’re in the middle of the revolution, and we can’t tell. Right now, we’re all sitting in front of the TV while that same episode of Green Acres plays again and again, and we’re wondering how it will all turn out and if we’ll be winners or enemies of the revolution. So we stay quiet, and we sit here, waiting, waiting. Sooner or later there will be an announcement. Will it be good for us? Or bad? Yeah, some of our colleagues are in the street, cheering on one or the other side, but they don’t know either, who’ll win out. They’re just betting their (professional) lives.
There’s a song by Chris De Bourgh I’m very fond of. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0zp9uX9B6I (Indulge me, I was kissed for the first time to a Chris de Bourgh song.) Lately I’ve been listening to it a lot. Listen to the beginning “Wake up, boys, there’s a light at the window/I can hear someone knocking on the door/there are voices in the street and the sound of running feet/And they whisper the word revolution. ” and “Like a whisper in the wind/revolution.” And then: “Is anything changed at all/sweet liberty/sweet liberty is in our hands/it’s a part of the plan/or is it a state of mind/horses and men/horses and men are on the field/They didn’t yield/Many have fallen here/Never forget/Never forget what they have done/The time will come/When it will change again.”
There will be victims. There are in each revolution. Something will be lost that’s never found again. Other things will be gained that might not become obvious for years, perhaps for decades. Our own view on what changed and whether its for the best or not will change.
Right now, none of us can tell how it will turn out. We don’t have crystal balls. We can however get paranoid and scared and hurt ourselves and others. We can run our mouths and percipitate the fall of the regime, not knowing what will follow. Or we can support the regime and end up against the wall when the revolutionaries win. Either way, there's no safety anywhere.
I tell myself no revolution that brings me free books on the kindle, which has allowed me to discover countless new authors, can be all bad. I know in my heart it can’t be all good. I worry that we’ll become a splintered public, supporting so many niche authors that none of them can be a bestseller or even make a living. Yet I like getting what I want when I want. I like the fact that quite small niche authors can make a living on line. I like the choice. And yet Alvin Toffler's prosumer sounds like a lovely idea, until you realize that the prosumers have to live from something.
What do each of you think he or she will gain from the revolution? What do each of you think he/she will lose? What will the brave new world look like? An endless array of kiosks selling everything from sweet Amish Romances to Alien Porn? Exploding spaceships to pacifist, feminist literature? Or just by virtue of bigger bandwidth, an endless array of porn and true crime mags?
Sweet Liberty, Sweet Liberty is in our hands... It’s part of the plan.
Green Acres is the place to be/Farm living is the life for me..........