Publishing in Deep Time
Everyone has an opinion on the E-reader versus Kindle versus print debate. Everyone, that is, but me. All I’ve got is a swirl of biases and emotions. For those of you who made it to the end of Napoleon Dynamite (which I loved, but I know it’s a love/hate kind of flick), what comes to mind when I try to form a real stance on this debate is Kip’s song for his bride, who he met on the net: Sure the world wide web is great but you, you make me salivate. Yes, I love technology but not as much as you, you see. But I STILL love technology. Always and forever.
Substitute ‘print’ for ‘you’, and maybe something a little less graphic for ‘salivate’ (suggestions, please!), and that’s basically where I’m at.
Of course, the digital versus print debate is only one of many issues perplexing me. Every working day I spend about twenty minutes, a few more when I’ve got the leisure, trying to keep my knowledge of the industry current by reading various online magazines, papers, and blogs. And every day, it seems, there is a certain amount of ominous news mixed in with the good or merely interesting: Pages Bookstore is closing; Margaret Atwood is Twittering; small mags are facing funding cuts from DCH; there is a blog called Magazine Death Pool.
On days when the news is just too overwhelming to understand, let alone rationally respond to, I like to re-read an excellent article by Andrew Steeves on the future of literary publishing, in which he sets the ‘turbulence’ of today into the reassuring context of deep time:
When I’m not making books, I spend a lot of time rambling in the woods near my home. One of the things that strikes me when I’m out there is how temporary it all is, relatively speaking. After all, the arrangement of my present landscape is a mere 10,000 years old, shaped by the repeated advances and retreats of mile-high sheets of ice. All these years later, I can read the story of the land on the land as I travel over it, discerning where rivers dithered and changed direction, or scrambling up rocks moved miles and dropped, well, erratically. Heraclitus wasn’t kidding when he said that you can’t step in the same river twice. It’s hard to take yourself too seriously when you realize that the very terra firma is actually in a sort of constant state of becoming and unbecoming.
This may help to put our questions about the future of literary publishing, a small corner of human endeavour, into context. In fact, to discuss the history of publishing in Canada at all is to discuss a past so recent as to be almost indiscernible from the present. Nothing about it has roots deep enough to merit being called established. The future is simply not distant enough from the beginning to allow significant differentiation between a history and a forecast.
I’ve been re-reading his article in my print copy of CNQ No. 75, in which the piece first appeared, but was delighted to discover the article in full over on CNQ’s newly-redesigned website. (sure, the world wide web is great…) Please check it out; I especially recommend it to my compatriots in the small mag trenches.