Jobs lost, imprints closing, with more publisher consolidation possibly on the horizon. A lot of people are being hurt, but am I the only person who thinks there could be something good come of this? Big publishing houses have been making life harder for new and mid-list writers for several years now. Might a lessening of their stranglehold on publicity and shelf space be an opportunity for smaller, more flexible publishers to fill a niche? And would this be good for authors? Not the seven-figure advance crew, but in general?

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I think the fallout will largely be negative. Smaller houses will fold, bigger houses will merge, publishers in general will be less-inclined to take risks on new, unconventional work and less patient with mid-list authors. Literary fiction, with its tiny audience, will shrink to practically nothing (already has, really). Genre will continue to hold its own, but crime will no longer dominate. Our demographic will slowly die off, to be replaced by younger readers raised on a diet of Harry Potter and/or Twilight, Grand Theft Auto and internet porn. Best-sellers will be increasingly bland and formulaic, until the brick-and-mortar, paper-and-ink publishing industry as a whole shrivels to a fraction of its current size, replaced, inevitably, by subscription-driven internet publishing or audio books. Honestly, why publishers bother with actual books anymore is the great mystery as far as I'm concerned. The good news is that aspiring authors will have access to the same audience as established authors/big publishers; the bad news is that everyone will make less and less money as electronic piracy finishes off the industry once and for all. The recording industry R us, but in slightly slower motion.
First of all, welcome back, Jon. Secondly, umm, did you see the heading up there, "Silver lining?" Silver, you know, not quite gold, but not bad ;)

Actually I agree with a lot of your assesment. I'm always surprised that books, especially hardcover, aren't a special order item. Someday I think they will be. I have no problem with e-books and e-readers. The Sony one I tried was very good and the technology is only in the beginning. I was on the subway today for an hour with a thick trade paperback, my winter coat, gloves, togue, etc., and one of those slim Sony e-readers would have been great.

As for the actual content of books, you're probably right. Literature will hold its own as long as the population at college (as you yanks call university) holds its own. There hasn't been much market for literature past college campuses and the alumni for a long time - since the explosion in college enrollment in the 60's at least. So, if middle-class people continue to send their kids to school for liberal arts degrees in the numbers they do today, litertue will remain stable.

As for the shift in the other genres, sure why not. Although most of us guys probably read a lot more sci fi when we were kids than we do now. I'm not sure if what people start out rading as kids or teenagers really has such a direct connection to what they read as adults, but we'll see. We usually change our tastes in food as we become adults.

Well, you know, I have noticed that a great deal of the marketing effort for almost anything is directed at teens. Clearly, that is what is behind the Stephenie Meyer success. It's pretty depressing that the pen (mightier than the sword?) now is at the mercy of the mindless -- and in their hands.
Wow, you sound like all those people complaining about rock'n'roll in the 50's. While a lot of it was dreck, it sure led to the opening up of music to much wider inspirations. It was all those rock'n'roll musicians that dug up old blues and folk music and popularizaed it again and went out around the world and brought back what we call world music.

Of course, maybe JohnD is right and I'm just going to get hit by lightning. Oh well, I'm going to get rained on for a while, either way.
Not sure that the music/fiction comparison works. Look at how well music is selling and how jealously they guard their rights!

I just picked up elsewhere a report from one of the big publishers, stating that both fantasy and romance are selling extremely well at this time. I rest my case. Or do you see either category as seminal for future literary masterpieces?
Literary masterpieces are unaffected by market trends because sales potential does not figure at all in the writing - certainly not in the kind of writing required to create a masterpiece.

If people who sat down to create pure art were discouraged by the marketplace there'd be no art at all. Has anyone ever said, "I want to be an artist," and had the people around them say, "Hey, that's a great idea, you'll do really well at that, make money and be happy."

We have no idea where future masterpieces will come from.

But once we take those very few works out of the discussion, what we're left with are readers and writers and we're looking for ways to bring the two together in mutually beneficial ways. I think we may just be clever enough to do that.

Now, I agree the comparison between the three minite pop song and literature just doesn't work.
The reason I tend to be so cynical about the future of fiction is that the readers have changed. And in order to meet the requirements of the marketplace, authors have adapted to them to a greater of lesser degree. Some of the new requirements in writing style are, for example, "show -- don't tell" and let there be no more long sentences, paragraphs, words, or any nonessential description (especially if it involves an adverb). The requirements for plot are that the violence start in chapter one and build from there. From where I stand, these rules are directly related to a couple of generations that have become accustomed to watching their stories acted out -- not on the stage, but in movie theaters and on the box. Books must compete with and adapt to the format of the quick and easy audio-visual thrill.
MFA programs are generally associated with literary fiction, and literary fiction has no problem with meandering about.

Also, isn't the main demographic for crime fiction older people, particularly women? I've heard or read that somewhere, but maybe I'm wrong.

You might be right about Faulkner, but then, he didn't have an easy time in his day anyway. Even after winning the Nobel he went largely unrecognized in America (at least commercially). The French liked him a lot, but Faulkner still had to secure his living through screenwriting.
I don't know, have you read Jonathan Letham or Michael Chabon or any of the big literary stars today, the ones that would be the Faulkners or the Hemingways of today? Hemingway would have more competition from around the world, that's true, the Booker Prize winners weren't much competition in those days but they are today. There'd be more competition from a lot more women than there was, but he'd do okay.

Faulkner would still have to do something like go to Hollywood, maybe he'd start up McSweeney's or have a really popular blog or something.

There's still plenty of the highest quality stuff being written - it's not all American, but that's okay -- and there's just so much more available that stuff doesn't stand out as much as it did, but it's there.

(this was supposed to show up in response to Dan's post above)
I wish there had been a Crimespace twenty years ago; I'm sure we could find many similar comments

Teenagers whose parents hate their music grow into parents who hate their children's music. The spiral is always perceived to be downward. Someone (I think it was baseball-writing Bill James) once checked and found retired ballplayers have been saying things were better in their day for a hundred years. If the contemporary observations of any period are to be believed, nothing would be worth doing by now. (I am, of course, excepting the menbers of the hype machines, for whom everything out of the chute must be the greatest ever if they are to stay employed.)

There's a natura tendency to remember the best of the past. Go back and check the annual lists of best books and movies from thirty, forty, sixty years ago. Some will still be classics, and some will make you wonder what the hell these guys were thinking. Then look at some efforts now accepted as great that didn't make the list. Even better, go back and read some ads for movies from thrity years go. Just open any daily paper to the movie page. Cinema buffs tend to think of the 70s as a Golden Age, but a lot of shit got made in the 70s. And the 40s. And the 30s. And that shit made money. It just doesn't get remembered.

We're too close to any evolutionary change in taste to be able say for sure what it means. Even if we could say, what difference would t make? We can't change it. We write the best books we can, and they sell or they don't. It's no one's fault, either way.

I'm very zen today.
"I'm very zen today."

Oh, nice! :)

But you know, I was just thinking today how my own tastes have changed. I cannot abide Agatha Christie any longer, though I read all her books years ago. Dickens, on the other hand is still eminently readable for me.

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