Saturday, September 10, 2005

The Artistry Formerly Known As Print

Stuff changes. That's how it goes. Economies change, societies change, technologies change. Now before you get all freaked out by the following (and I'm just as much of a bibliophile as any of you), think about how certain parchment (or stone tablet) afficianados must fave felt about the first books.

Here's a post from Michael Blowhard on "the future of long, all-prose narrative."

Here is Scott Esposito's response to Mr. Blowhard.

Here is Word Munger's response to both Blowhard and Esposito. Excerpts:

Michael is speculating that the long prose narrative will be history someday — that the novel will have come and gone as a genre. Scott, perhaps not surprisingly, thinks a bit differently. He suggests that the novel is a welcome respite from the high-speed, plugged-in society we’re living in.

I’m going to argue something slightly different: that the novel is already history. The novel is certainly no longer the mass-media entertainment, the way it was in the 19th century. People still buy and read novels, certainly, and occasionally a book comes out that strikes a nerve and really gets people talking — a Harry Potter, or a Da Vinci Code. But even a mega-blockbuster like Da Vinci only sells around 35 million copies worldwide. There are literally hundreds of movies with this many viewers. Even a midlist film like Vanilla Sky grosses over $200 million worldwide, corresponding to roughly 30 million screenings*. But by only counting viewers in theaters, we’re barely getting started. There are DVD sales, rentals, screenings on HBO, and finally regular TV.

With the ease of self-publishing, especially with the rise of e-books, what we might see is something like an eBay class of writers, making money off of blogads, audiobooks, podcasts, you name it. They’ll be patching together income in drips and drabs, rather than garnering giant publishing contracts. Nearly all of them will have day jobs. Will what they produce look like a novel? Perhaps some of the time, but it will most certainly depend on what makes the most money. Maybe short stories, or series, or something else entirely, will be more marketable in podcast or e-book form than the traditional 300-page novel.

So the hallowed novel is perhaps doomed to be replaced entirely by flashier stuff — movies, music, video games, podcasts. An abomination? Remember what preceded it: the “literature” of the ancient Greeks was epic poetry, memorized and performed to music. “Drama” was musical theatre, perhaps more like opera or a Broadway show than a “serious” play. Maybe what we’re really doing, with our iPods, our cell phones, our laptops, our PSPs, is simply returning to our roots.

* He probably means "viewings in a theater" rather than "screenings." Also, he neglects readings of TDVC that occur via a school or public library, a used bookstore or garage sale, or a single copy circulated among acquaintances. But still.

Speaking of the relative status of the long prose narrative, the charming and erudite Diablo Cody (KSFW) got a spiffy new T-shirt at Ye Olde Renaissance Festival:

Are those Alex Ross prints in the background? Looks like Batgirl, the Golden Age Flash, and... Captain Marvel?


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