When did CBC anchor guy Evan Solomon publish his novel, Crossing the Distance? I'm thinking it was around 1999 - five years after my first e-mail address, and 'round about the time someone first said the word "Google" to me. I interviewed Solomon about his novel (whenever it was), and somehow we got into a discussion about the future/death of the book. It was a popular discussion topic among publishing types even way back then in the last century. Solomon said something that has always stuck with me, and he was probably quoting someone else. He said, "the book is a great technology."
I repeat that line to myself from time to time. The book is a great technology. It used to be a calming mantra, but now more and more I find myself adding the word dammit! to the end of it. It's no longer something we booky types need to say to ourselves to help us get to sleep at night. Now, it's a campaign slogan - maybe an emergency campaign slogan.
I could go on and on, explaining what I mean but, luckily for all of us, novelist Ewan Morrison has done all the going on and on for me:
Are books dead, and can authors survive?
This is an important rumination, so I implore you not to run away screaming. Along with Jaron Lanier's mighty You Are Not A Gadget - a roundhouse manifesto right in the face of free culture - this is the most compelling call to protect the economy of cultural production I've read.
Here are a few "free" samples:
The digital revolution will not emancipate writers or open up a new era of creativity, it will mean that writers offer up their work for next to nothing or for free. Writing, as a profession, will cease to exist.
These digital providers are not in any way concerned with or interested in content, or what used to be called "culture". To them culture is merely generic content; it is a free service that is provided in the selling of customers to advertisers. Ideally for service providers, the customers will even provide the culture themselves, for free. And this is what we do when we write blogs, or free ebooks or upload films of ourselves, at no cost.
Morrison dissects the rationale behind casual piracy perfectly. It is so subtle, yet so pernicious, it seems almost unstoppable. Almost. What can stop it, according to Morrison? Only our desire to see it stopped:
All that is clear is that for authors and publishers to abandon each other only accelerates the race towards free content. Authors must respect and demand the work of good editors and support the publishing industry, precisely by resisting the temptation to "go it alone" in the long tail. In return, publishing houses must take the risk on the long term; supporting writers over years and books, it is only then that books of the standard we have seen in the last half-century can continue to come into being.