Friday, October 20, 2006

The Argument Explained

Ben Arnoldy of the Christian Science Monitor explains the phenomenon of publishing a book online using this Google Docs, in which readers can add their thoughts and notes. It's a good article sorting through the issues involved, allowing the folks at The Institute for the Future of the Book to push their agenda.

And they speak quite directly to my point:
"The skills of an editor are not going to become unimportant; it's just that it is possible that the few hundred editors that work in publishing in New York City may not be the only people who have really good opinions about what's worthwhile in the world," says Jesse Wilbur with The Institute for the Future of the Book in New York.

Well that says it, doesn't it?

The article is prompted by GAM3R 7H3ORY, the "book" by Andrew Wark. The Chronicle of Higher Ed piece on this guy and his manuscript prompted me to start writing, and the paragraph above pretty much sums up why.

I'm all for going against a small group of publishing elites in NYC, and I have written about ways to do that here . My concerns come from the last post about the sports betting combined with the following quote:
"If we can manage to teach academics and people who are used to getting personal credit for their work [this new] way of collaborating, the result, I think, could very well be revolutionary in a real sense," Sanger says. "The result is an enormously efficient, exciting, and productive method of content development."

Sooo.... the academic won't get all the credit. They need to get over their need for "personal credit." Who is getting credit then? The masses? Fine, give the masses credit a la Wikipedia, and then tell me who is making money! In the article on betting, we see that these websites are making money, by plucking the best of the betters and essentially selling their services. If books become a shared place, and authors become more like Oprah or Terri Gross (as this article explains) than individual artists, who will control that space? Again, Herbert Marcuse should have taught all of us to be skeptical of this technology. The internet is NOT public space, but commercial space. It's like a mall compared to a public square, or an open field in the woods. As Naomi Klein has nicely explained, you are not free to assemble there, it will mess with business.

And the article ends with this:
"You have to be a certain kind of author to do this, and you have to be able to attract enough people to your site," says Ms. Berinstein. For writers of these new collaborative works, she says, there's a new version of the writer's age-old self-doubt: "What if I made a book and nobody came?"

This is disturbing. A book, in the more traditional sense, is a collaborative effort - between the author and the employees at their publishing house. But if your publishing house is a corporate monstrosity, some behemoth of bureacracy, then you don't feel this. I say to writers, then, go to an independent press that answers the phone when you call. You won't be alone, sitting at home checking your site for viewers or visitors. You'll be calling your editor to ask what's going on, speaking to your publicist about media opportunities, etc...

I guess this is where you hit the wall with the internet, and one must ask oneself: does the internet connect people and form satisfying communities in the way that neighborhoods once did, or university dorms do? This last paragraph says no to me, and makes this concept of virtually collaborating, the concept of a book people a place online with the author as the host, into something soulless, sad, and ultimately unsatifying.

1 comment:

Lee said...

I've found your site through a comment on if:book and thought I'd let you know about my novel serialisation online from a blog. I'm not particularly interested in collaborative books, because, at least as far as fiction and poetry are concerned, it's the unique authorial voice, or perhaps the unique use of language, that moves and motivates me. BUT I'm a bit disturbed by the implication here, as elsewhere, that it's the number of readers/site visitors which satisfies an author. If that's the case, then how many is enough? Ten good readers? Ten thousand?

In a sense I've hit the wall you mentioned in another post: I've made a book and nobody's come to read. Well, not nobody, but not thousands either. Does it disturb me? If I'm honest, yes, sometimes. But do you know what disturbs me more, much more? That the novel I've written is so very far from the perfect novel in my mind's book. At least for me, that matters much more than x number of readers.