2010-11-01

The Flow

One of the ways in which the internet has changed my life is that i no longer have any idea whatsoever how i find things out. Used to be, i could think about a thing i knew and draw a relatively straight line back through the books or articles where i’d read about it, and the informed conversations i’d had with people who knew more than i did about it, and the initial reference where i’d first heard about it and decided to learn more.

None of that works anymore. The web is where pretty much all information starts and ends in my life these days, and its endless waves of content and context just kind of wash through me with no sense of where anything begins and ends. On the plus side, i probably know more about more things than i ever have at any previous point of my life. On the negative side, i have no idea where most of it originally came from.

Life for all of us who spend time on the web has become a flow of ideas, constantly clashing, crashing, and colliding with each other to create a shifting matrix of information that inflects and directs our lives.

Case in point.


A month or so ago, i read this piece by mystery/thriller writer J.A. Konrath on the Huffington Post site, but have absolutely no idea how i got directed there in the first place. I know i didn’t arrive by way of something else on the Huffington Post, because i wasn’t reading the HP at that point (i like to rotate my media around from time to time). It wasn’t through anything having to do with Konrath, since as a mostly non-mystery fan, i had no conscious recollection of ever having heard of Konrath before. (Colleen, significant other, is a mystery fan, so it’s entirely likely his books have been in my house.) It might have been through Slashdot; might have been through a blog, but even if i remembered which one, i doubt that i’d be able to remember how i got there, and so the recursion of uncertainty is constant.

Here’s why this is annoying to me. When i read that post by Konrath, i think something changed in my world. Assuming i’m right, it would nice years from now to be able to know why that happened.

I’m a technical kind of guy. I got into publishing in the first place not out of any particular love of publishing, but because i was a writer and a computer science major, and i was in the right place at the right time to take advantage of magazine publishing’s transition from traditional galley typesetting to the first desktop publishing systems. (I’ve done full-page, full-color magazine layout on a 9-inch monochrome Macintosh SE screen. I am teh hardcorez.)

Because i’m a technical kind of guy, i’ve been more than aware of the e-book movement. As a tabletop gamer, i was there for the rise, fall, and leveling out of the RPG PDF market. I followed the release of the Kindle in 2007 with much interest, though i shied away from owning one over my lack of enthusiasm for DRM and proprietary file formats. However, i was running Stanza on my first-gen iPod Touch from the moment i became aware of it (first book bought: Moorcock’s Elric: The Stealer of Souls anthology). My iPad currently rocks the iBooks reader, the Kindle app, and Kobo (where i like to do most of my shopping, because of the whole Canadian thing).

But for some reason, until i read Konrath’s Huffington Post piece, the following very important realization hadn’t clicked with me.

I’m a professional writer with credits up the yin-yang and books with my name on them and a ton of script work to my credit and a fair number of other people’s movies with my story editor’s fingerprints on them, and i’ve been bashing my head against the brick wall that is the traditional fiction publishing industry for a lot of years now. And what Konrath is doing, i can do, too.

As said, i’m a technical guy. It’s just that my ability to get with the program still runs on the old steam-powered analog system sometimes.

Originally, largely as a result of the experience of PDFs in the RPG market, i saw e-books as an interesting and long-overdue extension of the boundaries of book publishing. A change something along the lines of the appearance of the first mass-market pocket books — something that would put more books into more hands at a cheaper price, which is all good.

Now, along with Konrath and a whole bunch of other people, i think e-books are going to be the undoing of mainstream book publishing. E-books represent the new flow of information and power in publishing, with the former spreading to greater numbers of readers even as the latter redirects itself from publishers and agents to writers. Book publishing (and fiction publishing in particular) are built around an economic and power-structure model that’s been in place for a century or more. Just about the same length of time that galley typesetting in its various forms had been the center of magazine and newspaper publishing before me and the other computer-savvy hordes buried it for good.

Note that i’m not saying or implying that i predict “the undoing of books”. Merely the undoing of the traditional publishing industry. Books will always be around. Small press and indie publishers will always be around. Books will thrive in the e-reader era like never before, i think. They’ll just be created and sold in ways that the mainstream publishing industry has been entirely unable to predict and has no chance of reacting to.

That high-pitched whine you hear is Charles Scribner, spinning in his grave at 50,000 RPM.

The times, they are deranging. If you’re a writer, this is a very good thing.