Part of the whole brew-ha-ha surrounding the Hachette / Amazon dispute is a general sentiment that if Hachette loses the battle it is a sign that literature is doomed. At BEA (Book Expo America) last week James Paterson spoke on the subject:
“ Publishers are not terribly profitable. If those profits are further diminished, publishers will produce less serious literature. “
To hear Patterson, who churns out fiction faster than anyone on the planet (and much of it not written by himself but rather his collaborators), I find it somewhat ironic that he is worried about the state of “literature” especially since it makes him millions of dollars.
Yes, publishers are more vulnerable than in the past, but as I’ve mentioned before this is a bed largely of their own making for not embracing change and being agile as reader’s habits changed. But regardless of the strength (or weakness) of publishers, we have more books and more wage-earning authors then ever before.
A large part of this is due to the ebook and self-publishing revolution, and I don’t think all self-published should be treated equally. There is a big difference between someone who presses the “publish button” on a poorly produced book and someone who treats their writing professionally, and release books every bit as good as those by New York. The fact remains that when traditional was the only path, there were only so many slots available, and anything that didn’t fit into a nice little box was unlikely to be produced. The self-publishing revolution allows for more books and a greater diversity of content.
If anything, “literature” is stronger than it ever has been because authors have more opportunities. Many lament that the lack of gatekeepers have allowed so much “dreck” on the market, but I’m not concerned in the least. Books that are “unworthy” fade into obscurity and are invisible to the world at large. Those that are “good” find an audience and spread by word-of-mouth. There are, and will always be, gatekeepers when it comes to books…they are called readers. It is they who dictate, through their buying habits, whether a book was worth producing and releasing to the world at large.
So I don’t think James Paterson or the other naysayers have to worry about he state of literature. Even if the number of titles produced by the big-five is decreased, authors will continue to write because it’s what they MUST do. And as long as there are ways for these books to find their way into reader’s hands, everything will be just fine.