We live in an interesting time, don't we? The 21st Century is a time of rapid unending change. Most of this we can call progress and then shake hands and say "Aren't we doing well? Aren't we so much more enlightened than those who came before us?" Isn't that nice?
But a lot of it is just change. Is the wide availability of a smart phone progress? Sure, you can make that argument. Is the wide availability of the 8th generation of Samsung Smart Phones, now slightly larger, slightly more waterproof and slightly faster, progress? I guess by the strict definition it is, or is it just fashion? And does fashion progress or does it just change?
Regardless, I'm not interested in talking about smart phones. My point is that not all change is necessarily progress. Sometimes change is just change, not good, not bad, just different.
Media, publishing and distribution is changing. Everywhere around us, the main stream is embracing genre fiction and, in particular, sci-fi and fantasy are big money and broadly accepted by our culture. Comics aren't just for children, any more. And how about TV? There's a booming industry. For over a decade, seeminly trapped in a stasis of reality TV and talent shows, suddenly TV is high quality entertainment, telling stories that the big screen never could.
Is any of this progress? Does this better humanity? Probably not in any big way. Mostly it's just change, I think. But not the kind of change I want to talk about.
You know what I love? Robin Hoob: Men In Tights, the Mel Brooks Robin Hood parody film. Actually, I'm a big fan of parody, in general. Flying High? (Airplane, for you yanks) An amazing film. Weird Al? Can't get enough.
There was a glut of parody films for a while, movies like Meet The Spartans and the Scary Movie franchise. It seemed like we had a new one every six months. Alas, they all kind of sucked... A lot. Since then, it's been quiet on the parody front, hasn't it?
Or has it?
You know what else I love? YouTube. If you think the world of parody is quiet or dying, take a look at YouTube and rest assured parody is thriving. Parody music and parody films are in no short supply and they are as varied as the stars. Even Weird Al has lamented that, through the studio system, he cannot keep pace with parody artists on YouTube.
Change. That's what it is. That's what we're seeing in media.
I'm not a film maker or a musician, but I am a writer and the world of publishing is changing. The Internet has given new vigor to the community of independent publishers. More authors than ever are becoming their own publishers as well as writers, using the internet the distribute digital and print books in every genre and in every style. It's a change happening now and happening fast.
But that's still not what I want to talk about. We know the change is happening. Pointing at it like it's a new thing, now, is redundant. "Keep up, Carl. This is old news!"
No, I don't want to talk about writers and publishers and change and the internet and indies and traditional publishing houses and literary agents. At least, I don't want to talk about it on this basic level of mere acknowledgement.
I want to talk about people. Mostly I want to talk about writers, writers who often believe, rightly or wrongly, that they have the biggest stake in the game and that all this change has the biggest impact on them. If you're in the know, as it were, if you're part of the industry and community of writing and publishing, you may have noticed something odd, something a little weird, something that's actually kind of concerning.
I've noticed that some people, especially authors on either side of the taditional/indie line talk about all this change like it's a war or a bloody revolt, upheaving society at its foundations. Really? Is that how we want to view this change? Is that what this is? Are indies freedom fighters struggling to liberate books from oppressive gate keepers? Are the traditional publishers maintaining order and ensuring quality for the betterment of society, keeping back the wave of poor writing even in the face of a smear campaign by bitter rejected authors? Is this the change we're seeing?
I don't think so, and it concerns me that some people do. Don't get me wrong, there is change in the air. There's change in all facets of life here in the 21st century... But it's not a huge change. As it happens, there have always been authors who publish independently. Before there was Kindle, indie authors used personal websites, before the internet, authors sold their books by hand, paying for printing then carrying them about in boxes to local markets. The size of the pie for indie publishers has perhaps gotten bigger, but it's not like they had no pie before.
And what does this mean for the traditional houses? Well maybe it'll hit them in their back pocket, maybe it'll shrink their bottom line. Maybe it won't. Maybe the book market will struggle against the same external rivals it always has: Radio, cinema, television, sport. I don't have the data, I'm not an economist, and I'm not psychic.
But I'll still make a prediction.
I predict the big publishers and the small press are not going anywhere. I predict the ones that are big enough to weather the storm will survive and the ones who are flexible enough to bend with the wind will survive and the others? Well, they were probably always living on borrowed time. Sorry. Capitalism is a Darwinist bitch.
Things are changing, but probably not as much as you think. There also isn't a war over the soul of publishing and literature going on. Traditional and indie publishers have co-existed since the birth of the industry. As it happens, there is room for both, and both can even thrive.
Indie authors aren't the worst writers, rejected by every publishing house and literary agent on the planet, bringing about the death of literature as we know it with their storm of unedited, thinly veiled fan fiction. I should know, I'm a reasonably well reviewed indie author.
Publishing houses aren't run by fu manchu with the sole purpose of exploiting the struggling sensitive artists, squeezing every cent out of them that they can before tossing the scraps to wolves to make space for the next generation of suckers begging for validation. I should know, I've been traditionally published and I'll gladly go back for more.
The world just isn't that simple.
But one thing is for sure: Everybody, be they agent, editor, author, cover artist, marketer, or what-have-you, we're just trying to get books (in whatever shape they take) into the hands of readers. We'd really like to make some money from it, too. You know, so we can keep eating and being alive long enough to make another book.
And as soon as we smash capitalism, I'll be glad to give up the money part.
Until then, there's no war. We're all in this together and that means the very best road forward for us all is the one paved by cooperation and respect.