More bleak book news from the New York Times:
The point may soon come when there are more people who want to write books than there are people who want to read them.
At least, that is what the evidence suggests. Booksellers, hobbled by the economic crisis, are struggling to lure readers. Almost all of the New York publishing houses are laying off editors and pinching pennies. Small bookstores are closing. Big chains are laying people off or exploring bankruptcy.
A recently released study by the National Endowment for the Arts found that while more people are reading literary fiction, fewer of them are reading books.
Meanwhile, there is one segment of the industry that is actually flourishing: capitalizing on the dream of would-be authors to see their work between covers, companies that charge writers and photographers to publish are growing rapidly at a time when many mainstream publishers are losing ground. [...]
“Even if you’re sitting at a dinner party, if you ask how many people want to write a book, everyone will say, ‘I’ve got a book or two in me,’” said Kevin Weiss, chief executive of Author Solutions. “We don’t see a letup in the number of people who are interested in writing.”
To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with self-publishing. A publishing contract simply means that a business thinks they can make money from a particular piece of writing: if publication’s any measure of aesthetic value, it’s only indirectly. No, what’s depressing about the NYT piece is the suggestion of writing perceived as self-valorisation rather than communication.
Of course, writing always involves ego. But if the book’s just about my need to see myself as creative, what’s in it for anyone else? Hence the gulf between the desire of people to write and the desire of people to read.
It’s the same phenomenon manifested in the Australian poetry scene. As has often been said, if a tiny proportion of those who wrote poetry actually bought the poems of others, well, the infrastructure of contemporary poetry would be transformed.
In any other context, someone who talked but never listened would be unbearable. Why should it be any different with writing?
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