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The future of books?

Editorial #9: E-Pulp Fiction. Stephen King made quite a splash a couple months ago when he announced he would be publishing his newest work ďThe PlantĒ only online. While the most attention was paid to Kingís peculiar plan of publication (in which the first third was printed, and only if enough people paid for the book would the future sections be written and released), the element that was really worth of attention was the fact that a major author was completely circumventing the old fashion of book distribution and switching to the Internet. Far too many people dismissed this simply as a stunt.

The Internet promises to revolutionize the publishing world, providing a shift in practices that could rival the invention of the printing press. The World Wide Web could potentially make the publishing industry as obsolete as those monks who copied out illuminated manuscripts laboriously over the course of decades. While this may be laying the hyperbole on a bit thick, no one can doubt the Internet has changed the world of letters significantly. The Web offers the opportunity for a nearly infinite library at our fingertips.

However, there are some serious questions that should be worked through in this system before itís foolproof (whether theyíll actually get worked through is another story; because of its worldwide nature, the Internet will blunder ahead whether it knows the proper route or not). The first question most people are having is, how do we make money off of this? This is the question that interests me least; Iím content with the fact I will be poor the rest of my life. But money is what makes the world go around, and so the question of where the profits will end up (or even how to make the profits) concerns people greatly. Because of egalitarian nature of the Internet, anyone can get nearly anywhere with little problem, and itís necessarily hard to restrict access to anything; if one site charges you for something, there will be another site which has what youíre looking for free of charge.

This leads to the second big question. How does the aspiring writer plan to get credit for anything? Responsibility isnít really a high priority for anyone on the Internet, and it is routine for people to go uncredited or miscredited for their work. As the music industry is already finding out, copyrights are virtually non-existent on the web. While the Internet is great for the aspiring writer looking for exposure without having to pay for an agent or having to sign a book deal, itís far too easy for them to wind up with no credit at all.

Of course, the biggest question for me is whatís going to happen to my books? No computer has yet been able to match the portability, ease of use, appearance or browseability of books. Books never need a battery, you can take them anywhere, you can open them to any point you want to, skip back and forth as you please. I donít want to say that a computer will never be able to match this. But itíll be a long strange trip until they do.

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