Will We See The Death of Writing?

I’ve written previously on this topic, but I felt inclined to revisit it today.

 

The writing industry, like many other industries, is in the process of being transformed by technology, specifically the Internet. Technology is having a variety of effects on the written word, many of which are detrimental. First, the English language (and most probably all the other ones) are disintegrating beneath an avalanche of abbreviations. Dn’t u think so 2? The art of writing still exists, and there are a select number of individuals who can still make a living at it, but a new threat is rising. The ebook.

 

The ebook is, basically, a digital book. As opposed to the standard paperback or hardcover, the digital book can be copied almost endlessly, and transferred over wires and through the air. This leads to a few difficult issues, such as copyright problems, and perhaps even easier information theft, however, the ease of production and copying has led to a reduction in prices (excepting where a few monopolistic concerns are involved) and increased availability. If one visits a site like Smashwords one will find a host of books under $5 or even free, a far cry from the typical $10 or $12 normally required for a traditional book. A search on Google for “free ebooks” leads to a whole page of options where one can be entertained for free. One takes a risk, though, with a free ebook—because it is so easy to produce one, quality is not guaranteed. What has happened is that all the books which would normally make up the infamous “slush pile” at a traditional publishing house have found their way on-line. The result is a hodgepodge of books on everything under the sun, written at varying levels of ability.

 

It is the free ebook that I worry about the most as a threat to the writing industry. Whether intentionally or not, they may drive the more traditional publishing houses out of business. I could be wrong. I hope I am. But the problem is twofold: as the literary skills (dn’t u think so 2?) of the general population decline, the literary ability required to satisfy them will also decline. Combine this with an enormous influx of free ebooks, and the traditional book industry might have a serious problem. Why spend $12 on a traditional book, or $6 on a traditional book houses’ ebook, when one can get comparable entertainment from a free ebook? Taken together these factors may spell the death of the writing industry.

 

Perhaps I’m being paranoid. The writing industry has survived other technological upheavals in the past; perhaps it will survive this one as well. I hope so.

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About atoasttodragons

The author, Matthew D. Ryan, lives in northern New York on the shores of Lake Champlain, one of the largest lakes in the continental United States, famous for the Battle of Plattsburgh and the ever-elusive Lake Champlain Monster, a beastie more commonly referred to as Champy. Matthew has studied philosophy, mathematics, and computer science in the academic world. He has earned a black belt in martial arts.

14 responses to “Will We See The Death of Writing?”

  1. ljclayton says :

    Before I read your blog, I would have said without hesitation that writing will always survive. But now I’m not so sure that it will, at least as we define it at the moment. You’ve made me fear for standards. Thinking about human nature, it’s natural that free books should be irresistible, regardless of quality. If we read more badly-written books that well-written, obviously it’ll bring about a culture change. Elitism in art is necessary for standards. We accept it in football without question. Why should writing be treated with less respect? But it will be.

    • atoasttodragons says :

      If it is to survive, I think it will be greatly transformed. The path to success may change. Writer’s may begin with free ebooks, then a select few may branch out to include movies based on their work, etc. We may reach the point where the writing itself won’t support the writer, but only the derivative works. Oh well, I guess time will tell.

  2. debyfredericks says :

    It seems you’re really speaking of two different issues: writers and the publishing industry. Certainly the publishing industry is changing. New formats, such as e-books; new avenues of distribution, primarily the Internet. These challenge the traditional model and create uncertainty.

    However, it’s easy to forget that Traditional Publishing has only existed for 100 years or so. Prior to 1900, all publishing was self-publishing. I’m sure there was a lot of drivel, but the writers we remember are Twain and Dickens.

    Writing, itself, is not an industry. It is storytelling. People will always tell stories, whether they appear as a physical book or on a screen. So take heart, my friend. There will always be writers.

  3. weaverofworlds says :

    I have to admit that as a relatively new writer, I’ve heard plenty of concern from most authors about the e-book revolution; even well-known and established authors feel threatened by it. As an experienced reader, I find the occasional spelling mistake in a work amusing, but too many I find annoying. I think most readers would respond the same, and thus naturally find and talk about authors they liked. “The cream rises to the top” is often repeated, but with the upcoming generation, I have no clue if it will hold true. Logic dictates it will, but people don’t always follow logic.

    Those who want to write a book without studying the art see e-books as the perfect way to do so, since they don’t have to have anybody approve it. They’re here to stay, and so are e-books. Who knows, maybe we’ll end up with a website where only books that meet a certain quality will be accepted, and so if people want quality they’ll look there first.

    There is also the other side of the coin. More people are becoming literate, and being able to write well is becoming a valued skill in more areas than just literature. More people are starting to actually care about the written word. I’m going to keep studying and writing the best I can with the belief that it will make a difference.

    • atoasttodragons says :

      I agree that one or two typos is not a big deal. I’m not sure about your last claim, though. In my experience, technology is murdering literacy. People forget to capitalize “i,” can’t differentiate “its” from “it’s,” etc…
      Anyway, if you’re right, there is a flip side to the flip side of the coin you just flipped. 🙂 If more people are literate, that means more potential writers. Combine that with an easing of standards and there is a tsunami of books on the horizon. And that just exacerbates the problem.

    • debyfredericks says :

      One problem is that self-publishing (whether paper of e-book) is touted as something quick and easy, and that everyone deserves to be published. Well, writing is not quick and easy. We have to take time and think carefully about every choice we make, just as every artist does. When we’ve built our skills to the point of writing an engaging and readable tale, then we deserve to be published.

      • atoasttodragons says :

        True, writing is not quick and easy. But just because something is published traditionally, does not mean it is an exquisite piece of art; they have their share of garbage, too. And I’m sure there are many skilled writers who don’t make the cut in a traditional house because the house can only publish so many books in a year. I guess, with respect to that point, it is an odds game. Going the traditional route increases the odds (but does not guarantee) that the book published is of high quality. The self-published work is more likely (but not guaranteed) to be of lower quality. Then its another question of whether this difference in quality is even perceptible by the bulk of the population.

  4. justincaynon says :

    I doubt that the writing industry will die out any more than you tube has killed the movie industry. The reason why it won’t go away is because there are people who just hate ebooks for whatever reason, then there are people who like literary fiction and good grammar and the like. I wouldn’t say that publishing will be the same in ten years, but a lot of the issue was brought on by the publishing houses themselves. When you have a gatekeeper culture in writing its easy to see why people would choose other routes to go.

    I am actually looking at doing both, the ebook route I am trying first though.

    • atoasttodragons says :

      I think many of those who hate ebooks probably haven’t ever tried one. I, for one, was against ebooks until I got a smartphone and tried one; it was a surprisingly good experience. Anyway, good luck in your efforts.

      • justincaynon says :

        Many of them refuse to just on the merits. I had a similar experience with Digital cameras, I was one of those “film will never die!” people back in the early 2000s when the digital camera was young and the world wasn’t quite as tech savvy.

        Now I own a giant digital SLR and I’m never looking back. I felt the e-reader was a good thing from jump street but I knew it would be a while before it was marketable. Just to let you know, I do plan to hire a real editor for my stuff to make sure it’s tip top before it comes out. One of the things I really fear for is the quality of the e-book I put out, no one’s got their name on that but me.

      • justincaynon says :

        Many of them refuse to just on the merits. I had a similar experience with Digital cameras, I was one of those “film will never die!” people back in the early 2000s when the digital camera was young and the world wasn’t quite as tech savvy.

        Now I own a giant digital SLR and I’m never looking back. I felt the e-reader was a good thing from jump street but I knew it would be a while before it was marketable. Just to let you know, I do plan to hire a real editor for my stuff to make sure it’s tip top before it comes out. One of the things I really fear for is the quality of the e-book I put out, no one’s got their name on that but me.

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