Interesting, more than a little disturbing article in TIME Feb. 2nd (The commemorative inaugural issue) about the future of publishing, by Lev Grossman, "Books Unbound - The forces of a new century are shaping a new kind of literature. It's fast, cheap and out of control." Describes the story behind four self-published novel that made it big, and goes on to talk about increasingly cheaper forms of publishing, including "Keitai Shosetsu" in Japan, novels written and read on cell phones includes 4 out of 5 of Japan's 2007 best sellers!

The trend essentially is increasing acceptance of "user-generated content," with examples including YouTube and Wikipedia, and fan fiction sites which now includes unpaid amateur editing "B-readers." The author concludes: "None of this is good or bad; it just is. The books of the fiture may not meet all the conventional criteria for literary value that we have today, or any of them." That sounds pretty bad to me.

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Here is the link to the TIME article in question:,9171,1873122-1,00.html

I don't like the eurocentrism at the beginning where the author brushes aside the novel before the 18th century, overlooking the classical Chinese novel which started first, as well as the Japanese novel. This attitude isn't new. Teachers are still saying that Gutenberg invented the printing press, yet typography existed in China 400 years before Gutenberg was even born.

Also the author of this article speculates about the future of books without anything to back this up. Here's the paragraph I'm referring to:

"And what will that fiction look like? Like fan fiction, it will be ravenously referential and intertextual in ways that will strain copyright law to the breaking point. Novels will get longer--electronic books aren't bound by physical constraints--and they'll be patchable and updatable, like software. We'll see more novels doled out episodically, on the model of TV series or, for that matter, the serial novels of the 19th century. We can expect a literary culture of pleasure and immediate gratification. Reading on a screen speeds you up: you don't linger on the language; you just click through. We'll see less modernist-style difficulty and more romance-novel-style sentiment and high-speed-narrative throughput. Novels will compete to hook you in the first paragraph and then hang on for dear life."

Some of this may be true and some of it may not, but I detected an alarmist, sensationalist tone to this, though maybe it's just me reading too much into it.

The author is right about video games, though; they are on the rise:

Here's an earlier TIME article featuring one of the authors of a popular Japanese cellphone novel:,9171,1702111,00.html

I think all these changes are great and I liked the comparison between orchards and jungle the author used. And I, for one, welcome it. I believe readers can filter out the dross on their own, a view that Jason Epstein, founder of Anchor Books, discusses in his book Book Business, Publishing Past, Present, and Future.

Anyway, I think the changes to the industry will be for the good (from a reader's standpoint, and ultimately, from the author's standpoint because the author will be able to have more control over his/her work) and let's not forget that books have always been "user-generated".
Thanks for providing the link, John.
This was (is?) going on in Japan where teens spend (waste?) their time with cell phones. It caters to that group. I doubt if it will ever present much of a threat to adult reading. But it may some day offer rewards since user-focused advertising may get into the picture.
There's real potential that John D's right about readers filtering for themselves. New technology makes it possible- really all I mean is the ability to look inside way more books online than you ever could standing in a bookstore.

So, I'm optimistic about these changes, too. This past year I found a whole bunch of new authors - a lot recommended here on Crimespace and on blogs - and in many cases I was able to "test drive" the authors by reading some of their short stories and excerpts online.
Lee Goldberg comments on the Time article on his blog. He says that the author writes and is really talking about fan fiction. You can find it by googling "ravenously referential." So which do you trust more, Lee Goldberg or Time Magazine? I'm inclined to go with Lee.
Can they both be right? It's a big world....
Actually, I don't think Lee claimed the author wrote fan fiction. He said the author posted fake reviews on Amazon to increase the ranks of his own novel.

I don't like Grossman's speculation without explanation, but I also think that Lee Goldberg is giving more importance to fan fiction in this article than Grossman did. It's not surprising given Goldberg's firm anti-fan fiction stance. Grossman predicted the future of literature would be akin to fan fiction, not that it would be fan fiction.

No problem here, though. It's Goldberg's blog, and he can say what he likes. Both the Time article and Goldberg's blog express opinions (although Goldberg is right about self-publishing success being in the minority). So there's no one article to "trust". I prefer to make up my own mind, not trust someone else's.
Fan fiction can be a very good writing tool - the same way a musician learns other people's songs a writer can use existing characters and narrative voices to learn.

The line that's getting blurred is between the learning stage and the professional stage.


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