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.

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