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On Updike and the Future of Books

? Heads Up, Janet Jackson Fans |


| Analysis of YouTube Top Videos ?

July 18, 2006

On Updike and the Future of Books

Heather Green

I am so glad that Jeff Jarvis has brought up again the whole issue of John Updike's concerns about the future of books and being a book author. Because I meant to write about this earlier.

To recap: Updike wrote an essay in response to a piece in the NYTimes Magazine by Kevin Kelly. Kelly's article was a deep dive into the forces shaping digital publishing, and how search and the ability to make endless copies would give rise to ultimate libraries of knowledge-and the end of the book as we know it.

Basically, this image freaked Updike out. To some, his response comes across as the typical screed to be expected from an old school elite and a digital curmudgeon. But in hearing him speak on NPR and in reading over his essay, I do understand his reaction. Mostly, he seems to be alarmed by Kelly's suggestions for how authors should respond to the picture Kelly is painting.

In his piece, Kelly wrote: "Authors and artists can make (and have made) their livings selling aspects of their works other than inexpensive copies of them. They can sell performances, access to the creator, personalization, add-on information, the scarcity of attention (via ads), sponsorship, periodic subscriptions — in short, all the many values that cannot be copied."

On NPR, Updike's response to this suggestion (of authors as performers) was: Listen, you don't want to talk to most authors. They do their best work alone and most are actually inarticulate when it comes to conversing. They are authors because they can write, not because they can talk.

The problem to me, reading over Kelly's article, is how he presents how creative types are supposed to respond. It's a typical example, in my mind, of the standard reply that people in the digital world give to other people when we don't know what the model will be for creative works: Oh, You're creative. Perform.

Kelly's story was fascinating in explaining the forces at work. But I think this kind of suggestion is a little facile. Better to say, these are some of the things people are considering, but we don't know how this will play out.

12:51 PM


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Performing, storytelling, art from IdeaFestival

Given some time to mull over Kevin Kelly's vision for literature, Heather Green at BusinessWeek's Blogspotting articulates something I couldn't quite spit out about the relationship between art and artist. On NPR, [John] Updike's response to this sugge... [Read More]

Tracked on July 18, 2006 07:06 PM

Writers and Performers from David Maister's Passion, People and Principles

Shaula Evans, part of my tech team, spotted an interesting discussion with John Updike, which raised some concerns about the future of publishing. Since we discussed the future of writing books in this blog back in February, she thought we all might ... [Read More]

Tracked on July 18, 2006 09:49 PM

The Future of Book Publishing, Part 2 from BOPnews

Part 2 of my discussion with business guru David Maister about the future of book publishing, reproduced with his permission. Part 1 of this exchange may be found here. [Full disclosure: David Maister is a client of my employer, stresslimitdesign.]The... [Read More]

Tracked on July 19, 2006 01:49 PM

The Future of Book Publishing, Part 2 from The Agonist

Part 2 of my discussion with business guru David Maister about the future of book publishing, reproduced with his permission. Part 1 of this exchange may be found here. [Full disclosure: David Maister is a client of my employer, stresslimitdesign.]

The fo [Read More]

Tracked on July 19, 2006 02:15 PM

BW’s Creative Concern is Revver’s Model from reBang weblog

Yesterday I happened across a post by Heather Green over on BusinessWeek’s Blogspotting site, “On Updike and the Future of Books” (link), and having read most of the Kelly article to which she refers, caught wind of Updike’s co... [Read More]

Tracked on July 19, 2006 10:06 PM

I read much of that NYT article. Thing is, anyone who followed Stephen King's experiment in online distribution came to the very same conclusions years ago. That people are now realizing this is a bit of a surprise. It's also what I've been telling other creatives just like myself for years starting with King's effort.

The problem is that the option to control creative work is effectively being removed. And it's not just removing control, it's the increasing cultural expectation that anything which can be replicated with ease and essentially without cost should be available free of charge. The whole concept behind intellectual property has apparently been forgotten.

Without control over the work (which even free culture advocate Lawrence Lessig states should remain in the hands of the creator), there will be difficulty in selling it; at least without some non-replicable quality that people desire (such as having been owned by a popular public figure!). And this goes beyond media creatives (musicians, authors, and others who deal in work easily digitized, distributed and consumed using current technology), but also includes those like myself who create sculptures and/or products. Even using future technologies to seal in components (e.g. rapid-manufacturing a gear system which is then sealed inside a seamless metal housing such that breaching it destroys the gears) is no protection... not when a determined individual can put that object in front of a 3D scanner which operates in the non-visible spectrum and has software that converts that scanned information to 3D data. That's the bigger picture of what I was showing when I first ripped the videostream from a computer game last year and converted that same data - from the video feed - into 3D CAD.

There is much more tied up in what's going on that most people realize. I still expect the automotive parts industry to be the first example of someone pirating gasket geometry or something and then posting the data online... which people can then print out on a customized printer that laminates layers of gasket material. That's the start.

Posted by: csven at July 18, 2006 04:12 PM

Correction: "pirating gasket geometry" is poorly-worded since it sounds inherently illegal, which it wouldn't be afaik. More accurate to say reverse-engineer (which mostly just means "trace" it and create a 3D extrusion). Apologies. I should have emphasized the "something".

Posted by: csven at July 18, 2006 05:53 PM

Boy, do I love the idea of sitting still for a few hours somewhere, anywhere, a beach prefered, and indulging in an Updike novel. Not only would I pay good money for the gen-u-ine book, I'd pay for the vacation too.

Only thing is... I'm too busy blogging to get around to taking a vacation or purchasing a real book.

Still, when I do find the time, I'd likely purchase a book, with the money I make in the digital, mass-culture marketplace.

Posted by: Pauline at July 19, 2006 03:02 PM

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