"I predict that the profession known as "author" will be retired to
history in my lifetime, like blacksmith and cowboy. In the future,
everyone will be a writer, and some will be better and more prolific
than others. But no one will pay to read what anyone else creates.
People might someday write entire books - and good ones - for the
benefit of their own publicity, such as to promote themselves as
consultants, lecturers, or the like. But no one born today is the next
multi-best-selling author. That job won't exist."
I agree, except that I don't believe online retailers will ever act as gatekeepers. It's not in their interest. It was in the interests of brick-and mortar retailer, but for digital retail, the Long Tail is where it's at. They make a ton of money off all those authors who only sell to themselves and their friends.
The new "gatekeeper" tech is already in play - Google, Amazon's "you might also like", places like Rotten Tomatoes and Goodreads. While Amazon or Apple might add a system of enhanced recommendation (maybe hire top reviewers as an editorial board to give gold stars to best book - but frankly that would be window dressing - they support that through their Amazon Associates program), they're just not going to drop the crap from the system, ever.
I would just like to point out that blacksmiths are definitely still in business, as are cowboys. The job has changed (especially for cowboys) but they still exist.
There are, indeed, still buggy whip makers.
At the same time, I do think that the whole payment paradigm will shift. For instance, I can see a model where we give away ebooks, and then sell lovely hardbacks as collector's items. I can see Amazon contracting with writers to provide content to attract buyers to Kindle (or similar things). I can also see (though it makes me shudder) an old model come into play - that of the literary writer, who writes for prestige and makes money off teaching.
But a good blacksmith can still make a good living, the old fashioned way.
As to writing to make money off teaching, that has been going on for a long time. It's "Publish or perish" in the academic world, and tenure, promotions, and salaries are tied to being published. It's absolutely customary to write only to maintain the teaching credentials. In most subjects, the topic may be technical and appropriate to what one is teaching, but in English and some other areas novels do count and count heavily.
Depends on the novel, and the department. I'm lucky in that my department appears to be inclined to count my crime novels toward tenure/promotion, but a lot of departments might not, even if the work was critically successful. I think that given the difficulty now of publishing literary work that standard will little by little be re-examined: it's almost impossible to publish first books of literary short stories now, and novels aren't much easier. Even ten years ago the story collection/novel two-book deal for emerging writers was commonplace--one of the standard entries into one's publishing career. Not anymore.
Smaller colleges and programs are also providing more opportunities for writers of more "commercial" types of writing - but you still have to have the full degree. (As a matter of fact at small community colleges, the degree is more important than publication!)
If the "YouTube" model (which seems to be what Adams is proposing) really does come to pass, then there will be a big jump in creative writing classes at the evening college and community college level - and those students will want writers of popular fiction. That's where the "books as promotional items" kicks in. If you have a following, and you can teach online, tuition-hungry community colleges may well go for it. Especially in a non-credit way.
That's possible, Camille--we see it here at our regional 4-year U among undergrads, too--lots of pent-up demand for genre-writing classes, which we don't currently offer. But we will, if I can find the time to put the proposal together! IMO, all universities that offer creative writing majors or MFAs should offer genre writing courses as a kind of vocational alternative. Look, kids--it's still possible to write for a living! Sort of. If you work really fast and don't mind a diet high in rice and beans...
Fortunately, where I live there are still plenty of working cowboys. And I don't anticipate that some of us won't continue to be working writers. People thought TV would kill movies and radio, and that videogames would kill TV, and that all of it would kill print, etc. Hasn't happened. If the digital era creates more readers and more ways to tell stories, that's fine, but it's not going to eliminate authors.
Okay, cowboys aren't a great example. How about elevator operators? As for the argument about TV killing stuff off--it certainly had a profound, and arguably negative effect on both radio and the movies; radio obviously isn't what it was in its heyday, and Hollywood is pretty much a lost cause--though the decline of the latter probably has as much to do with sheer lack of imagination as competition from other media. You could also make a case that the internet is currently killing both broadcast/network TV and the newspaper and magazine industries, just as it killed off the recording industry as we knew it a decade ago. If you look at ad revenue and declines in numbers of viewers/readers, it's hard to escape the conclusion that the situation in both cases is dire. And everybody's forgetting about the gloomiest, doomiest instance of genre-death by technology almost ever: the demise of the '70s truck-stop porno novel, which disappeared like mastodons from the landscape as VCRs (and therefore pornographic videotapes) became commonplace.
Not that I actually think authors will be eliminated--I just think, as Adams does, that the number of people who are able to write prose fiction for a living is likely to continue to decline.
Hollywood is certainly thriving. It doesn't matter whether you LIKE it or not - just whether the industry or job is gone.
We've also got to be careful about differentiating the product from the job. Truck stops may not carry porno any more, but I know a lot of people making good money writing and publishing erotica. (Mosty for women and gay/lesbian audiences.)
Hmmm, maybe that accounts for all those buggy whip makers who are still in business....
(All kidding aside, there are still saddlers, carriage makers and even buggy whip makers out there, and not just for the porn industry....)