The State of Publishing today

Came across this article in the London Review of Books (via reddit), which paints a particularly bleak and depressing view of publishing (and by extension, writing). The writer proposes a couple of solutions, but interestingly, only mentions kindle publishing - which many of us are using/planning to use - as an afterthought at the end. But it’s exactly these kind of shenanigans which have finally convinced me that kindle or ebook publishing is not only viable but necessary.




If you look around, you will find that Jenny Diski (the author of the article under the link) occasionally visits these forums, so I imagine she has also investigated the possibilities of publishing to Kindle from Scrivener.

Best, Martin.

The future is very bleak.

The kids of the future will have flipper hands and 12 inch thumbs.

Texting and grunting will be the main form of communication.

Everything will be acronymed.

All emotions will be expressed through emo-cons.

Fact checking will be a thing left in history. Instead all reality will be based on ill-informed blogs, opinions, and assumptions.

Books will be a foot note in history and will only be seen in wikipedia vidoes.

Everyone will speak just one language. The language of digital stupidity. It is expressed by flying thumb texts, emo cons, grunting and pointing, and symbols and icons.

TV shows and movies will be no longer than 15 minutes to compensate for the ADD, ADHD, and any other excuse a doctor will dream up to label someone who does not bother to pay attention.

All dating will be done online.

All sports will become virtual to “protect” the health of players.

The future is very bleak. I kind of died inside when I found out that in America, in many states, they are no longer teaching cursive writing (long hand hand writing) in schools. Instead they are focusing more on typing and grunting.

towards the subject. Publishing “e-books” / kindle / PDF / Digital is still a new frontier but I do not think it will replace old fashioned, ink on paper, publishing just yet. It is just another means of reaching readers in a digital world but many people do not want to read a novel digitally. Many people like the feel, the texture, the smell, and the ability to read comfortably. In the end flexability and options are available for everyone.

So grunt away!

I can’t imagine a business model that complicates the transaction for the customer will prove itself as the alternative to traditional publishing. What impresses me is the market that caters to aspiring writers is outgrowing the market to publish aspiring writers.

The market that caters to aspiring writers has always been bigger. Consider the amount of shelf space devoted to books of writing advice, and the long-established (and somewhat shady) tradition of vanity publishing.

The bottleneck has always been actually connecting the writer to potential readers. Electronic self-publishing is great from the author’s point of view – no more publishing gatekeepers – but has yet to prove why it is better for readers – no more editorial filtering.


From my experience with Kindle, self-publishing is growing. It’s the established writers that have been pulling back from Kindle, or at least delaying the release, because they say they aren’t making as much from Kindle sales as they can from hardbacks. The self-pubs are relying on word of mouth, be it from reader reviews, critics, or bloggers. The point is there is a buffer available to readers to separate the wheat from the chaff. What big publishers offer that self-publishing doesn’t is, well, pretty much everything else. Here’s what Amanda Hocking, one of the few self-pub success stories, had to say about her experience:

That is precisely where I think the reader reviews, etc. can break down, and I find myself somewhat in tune, though not quite as pessimistic as Wock.

Some time ago, I saw a reader review on Amazon of Skinner’s Verbal Behaviour. The reviewer trumpeted this wonderful theory and questioned why on earth it is not taught in courses on Linguistics and Psychology. The reader in question obviously had not read all the work that followed immediately that showed that the theory was arrant nonsense. But how many other people went on to buy Verbal Behaviour and told all their friends, “Hey there’s this fantastic theory … you should read it … it really explains what language is …”

Perhaps I might recommend, with caution, Dan Dennet’s talk on Dangerous Memes on TED, or Susan Blackmore’s.


Would you consider reading anything else recommended by the reader in your example? Book reviewers develop a reputation among readers. One reviewer got it wrong. While anecdotal, it’s hardly enough data to draw a conclusion.

I read an article where a critic from a newspaper wrote a negative review of a book only to find out later that the book had never even been written. The critic defended his review by roughly saying he hated everything the author wrote, so he was sure he would’ve hated that one, too. What does this say about all book critics?

I’m not inclined to devolve this thread into a self vs traditional publishing argument. If you publish fiction, and you want to reach as wide of an audience as possible, then it may be best to keep trying traditional publishing houses. Anything else, as the OP’s article suggested, would be a shortcut.

There is a whole branch of social psychology called Social Representations Theory (first brought to prominence by Serge Moscovici) which deals with how scientific ideas enter the common domain and become “common (sense) knowledge” in a simplified and sometimes distorted form. No doubt you could apply the ideas to how books are “reviewed” and evaluations of them get passed around.

I’m sure electronic publishing will just grow and grow. In a sense it already has – a web page is as much a publication as a book. This is acknowledged in formats for citation of references, like APA, which now include formats for citing web pages as sources. Perhaps we’re back to the 18th century, during which the most incredible things got printed up and put on the market in odd corners of Clerkenwell, and elsewhere. The difference is that the writing was often quite elegant in the 18th century.

Cheers, Martin.

So it kind of works like this Martin?

All sex either.

And Reproduction will be done in test-tubs.

Sin – yes, I think that’s not far off it! Much the same sort of thing happened well before the invention of Wikipedia, of course. I also do research in history, and it’s quite extraordinary to read what ends up in books written by well known authors. My personal favourite concerns a cavalry charge that someone was supposed to have made towards the end of the Battle of Rivoli, in 1797. If the author had actually bothered to read the original sources he would have found that the person in question was actually commanding a unit of infantry at the time, not cavalry, and if he had looked at a map he would have found that the terrain over which this supposed cavalry charge had taken place consisted of a snow-covered mountain ridge rising to 7,200 feet above sea-level. I’ve walked it – it took me seven hours to get to the top and another six to come down again (in summer, when there was no snow). And this gets repeated, because it is in a book by a well known author!

Cheers, Martin

I wouldn’t; but I bet there are a number — how significant, who knows? — who read that review, and bought the book and thought “Wow …” and passed it on, none of whom subsequently read the subsequent work. The members of this forum are an intelligent, widely-read — much more widely-read than me — critically aware group of people. 老百姓 “laobaixing” as the Chinese call them, the general public, the common people … they are not all. And you’ve only got to look at the nonsense some students quote as fact 'cos they’ve found it somewhere on the internet, to see that at work.

One of the hazards of being a Linguistics lecturer — our experience is not quite the same as Dan Dennett’s — is that as soon as people hear that that’s what you are, they immediately start telling you all about language … Dennett says “Everyone considers themselves an expert on consciousness”; Linguists find everyone considers themselves an expert on language. And most of what we’re told is wrong … and it usually starts with Eskimo words for “snow”!

That all of us, critics included, make fools of ourselves from time to time, and have to try and find a way out! :slight_smile:

Nor am I. Merely concerned, and somewhat pessimistic — or perhaps cynical is a better description of me — about where culture, ideas, use of language etc. is heading. Not that I think it can be stopped, least of all by me … all I can do is try to give my students an example of what I believe good, rich, informative language can be, language that is good to the ear and expressive and illuminating in content.

And my concern with this huge amount of disinformation that is circulating, the amount of belief — the ultimate opaque context — that is being handed out as “fact”, is the fear that I too am guilty of doing the same … so my lectures and conversation are heavily larded with “as I understand”, “as I see it”, “I believe”, “it could be said”, “perhaps one might say” and similar.