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And Then the Creative Class Spontaneously Combusted

On Tuesday, Guardian writer Alison Flood reported that approximately 6,500 writers opted out of Google’s plans to digitize books. Flood wrote:

“Former children’s laureates Quentin Blake, Anne Fine and Jacqueline Wilson, bestselling authors Jeffrey Archer and Louis de Bernières and critical favourites Thomas Pynchon, Zadie Smith and Jeanette Winterson have all opted out of the controversial Google book settlement, court documents have revealed….

As well as the authors named above, these include the estates of Rudyard Kipling, TH White, James Herriot, Nevil Shute and Roald Dahl, Man Booker prizewinners Graham Swift and Keri Hulme, poets Pam Ayres, Christopher Middleton, Gillian Spraggs and Nick Laird, novelists Bret Easton Ellis, James Frey, Monica Ali, Michael Chabon, Philip Hensher and Patrick Gale, historian Simon Sebag Montefiore, biographer Victoria Glendinning and bestselling author of the Northern Lights trilogy Philip Pullman.”

I really do admire the fact that these well-known, well-respected authors and their representatives have chosen to take a stand against Google. They took the time to research the company’s plan, and they decided that they did not want to be a part of it.

When an author’s work is published, he or she can decide in what form the work can be published. The author can restrict publication in other mediums. Google is violating that right.

According to science fiction writer Gwyneth Jones, the company as a digital publisher is now getting “…unprecedented access to billions of tiny payments, for product that costs them effectively nothing, at their point of entry. This seems to mean they don’t have to worry about any form of resistance at all. I don’t like the sound of that, not from anybody’s point of view.”

Despite my support of these authors, I have my qualms; it’s easy to argue about publishing rights when you have a good reputation and an impressive publishing history (easier to obtain in the past, when print was still the only option).

As someone who is working on a collection of short fiction and who one day hopes to be published in some way, shape, or form (I just want my work to be read, honestly), I am fully aware of how difficult it will be for me to get my work noticed once I am finally ready to distribute it to the world.

I’m not the only one writing books.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, “More than 10 times the number of colleges and universities offer the M.F.A. today in creative writing than when Associated Writing Programs was founded in 1967. Thousands of graduates now receive such degrees each year.” And that doesn’t include the people without writing degrees who are crafting books!

Oh. my. goodness.

All these people are hungry to be published. Wouldn’t you be too if you spent years of your life working on something that you believed was good? Most of these people would be thrilled if Google decided to publish their work.

Yes, Google only “publishes” authors who have been previously published. But I can almost guarantee you that Google will seek new ways to act as a publishing company in the future.

I’m actually really surprised that twriters are the only ones speaking out against Google. The publishers should be angrier – shouldn’t they? The major houses need to rethink their business models if they don’t want to lose out to Google.

I don’t really have a solution because, to me, the whole thing seems like an unstoppable train. Writers are HUNGRY to be published. One day, the beloved authors cited above and their estate holders will no longer exist. They can only fight Google for so long.

Where are you, publishers? Why aren’t you fighting the good fight?! The best insights/ideas I’ve seen are contained in this essay about the revenge of print from The Brooklyn Rail:

“In a flagrant attempt to compete with Internet culture, to crash books into the marketplace on hot button topics from steroids to celebrities, from political scandal to political ascension, corporate publishers aim now to meet immediate demand. If a book about teenage vampires becomes a bestseller, then the hustle is on to find and market a series about pre-teen vampires. And because of this constant rush to the market with books that have the shelf-life of a bruised tomato—in hardcover, with supplemental cardboard cut-outs that stand in chain store windows and usher customers down narrow sales aisles—this ideology has influenced the ebb and flow of the industry…

The goal for book publishers, most simply put, should not be to undertake a virtual arms race of developing technology with both the Internet and media, or to try to compete on a bloated scale with music and film, or even to translate a work to conform to an undetermined potential future model. The mission for book publishers and print media at large should be to create a product that is irreplaceable and indispensible.”

People are writing irreplaceable, indispensable things, and they are trying, waiting. Their desperation will enable companies like Google to take advantage of them, the creative individuals, ultimately helping themselves destroy their own value.

And then the creative class spontaneously combusted. The end.

(Photo by joguldi)

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