“Call me a pessimist,” Keillor writes in his latest New York Times Op-Ed , “Call me Ishmael, but I think that book publishing is about to slide into the sea.”
He goes on to mourn the loss of value in writing and readership:
We live in a literate time, and our children are writing up a storm, often combining letters and numerals (U R 2 1derful), blogging like crazy, reading for hours off their little screens, surfing around from Henry James to Jesse James to the epistle of James to pajamas to Obama to Alabama to Alanon to non-sequiturs, sequins, penguins, penal institutions, and it’s all free, and you read freely, you’re not committed to anything the way you are when you shell out $30 for a book, you’re like a hummingbird in an endless meadow of flowers.
Worse yet, Keillor muses, writing itself, by becoming democratized, is becoming meaningless and worthless:
And if you want to write, you just write and publish yourself. No need to ask permission, just open a Web site. And if you want to write a book, you just write it, send it to Lulu.com or BookSurge at Amazon or PubIt or ExLibris and you’ve got yourself an e-book. No problem. And that is the future of publishing: 18 million authors in America, each with an average of 14 readers, eight of whom are blood relatives. Average annual earnings: $1.75.
Back in the day, we became writers through the laying on of hands. Some teacher who we worshipped touched our shoulder, and this benediction saw us through a hundred defeats. And then an editor smiled on us and wrote us a check and our babies got shoes. But in the New Era, writers will be self-anointed. No passing of the torch. Just sit down and write the book. And the New York Times, the great brand name of publishing, will vanish (POOF) whose imprimatur you covet for your book (“brilliantly lyrical, edgy, suffused with light” — NY Times). And editors will vanish.
The upside of self-publishing is that you can write whatever you wish, utter freedom, and that also is the downside. You can write whatever you wish and everyone in the world can exercise their right to read the first three sentences and delete the rest.
The Death of the Gatekeepers
Of course, Keillor isn’t really lamenting the death of publishing. What he’s really lamenting is the death of the Gatekeepers. The (often) self-anointed literati who have for a couple centuries defined what is good and what is bad writing—and controlled the flow of information to the masses. Continue reading “Garrison Keillor Laments the Death of Publishing”