Although this is a topic that has been covered countless times by better writers than I, it is important to identify the problems facing the current economic mode of “word dissemination.” There are two main problems facing the publishing industry in total at the moment.
The current megatrend dominating discussion of the literary word is that readership for most forms of literary writing is down. If people are reading less of these forms, then the incentive to produce them may be less if the satisfaction of readership is a large reason why writers write. The number of mass market (national) publications that publish short fiction is decreasing and it’s becoming hard to be a rock-star literary figure in the United States. Take the Millions top 1- best novels of 2010– none are well known outside of a select group of fiction-buffs (most of whom are wagering are industry types.) Of course, Mindfair Books in Oberlin, OH posts a list of the top sellers of the week one hundred years ago (or 5200 weeks) with the tagline “permanence is fleeting.”
And let’s be clear here– I’m not saying literature is dead and I’m not saying it’s dying. I believe with all my heart that there will always be writers with something to express and they will always find a way to transmit that message to the public at large. However, the modes of dissemination available to a writer today (or yesterday, really) will not be available in 20, ten, five years and so aspiring writers (and people interested in the publishing industries) should keep this in mind while blazing a path.
Compounding this decrease in the readership of literary forms is the fact that the economic system of publishing is an anachronistic beast. The economic structure of book publishing is threatened, and although there are new experiments exploring ways to fix it, there’s been no consensus to date. The Kindle, while a great device, still at some level encourages the idea or the thought that words are free, and as a result, book prices are falling–Amazon is seen as a “loss leader,” and the vast majority of current authors publish a book and yet see little money from it. As it stands, we haven’t found a way to pay the writer and keep the current publishing system
That’s the problem. We tl;dr, and no one pays to read long things anymore.