Sat, Aug 24, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Imagining the future of literature

What will literature be like 30 years from now? Writer Ewan Morrison looks into his crystal ball and finds it is bad news for ebooks, the West — and anyone who cares about verifiable history

By Ewan Morrison  /  The Guardian, LONDON

In 2020, writers decided to get out of short-selling themselves, echoing the likes of Radiohead and Atoms for Peace, who decided back in 2013 that streaming services such as Spotify were “bad for new music” and withdrew their work.

Or as Nigel Godrich, the sometimes sixth member of Radiohead, put it: “New artists get paid fuck all with this model. It’s an equation that just doesn’t work.”

THE GREAT BETRAYAL

Again and again, the few lucky outliers within self-publishing who managed to build a reader base jumped ship into the arms of mainstream publishers, accepting big-money, multi-platform publishing deals in a process that came to be called the Great Betrayal. This caused a storm among digital diehards who had believed that writers could (and should) survive through online sales, shunning big corporations.

As each successful Kindle author jumped ship, self e-

publishing was further demonetized, as everyone who could abandon the system did so in favor of global deals with mainstream publishers. These “traitors” effectively turned self-e-publishing into a self-sifting slush pile for big publishers. The net became a means of free market research for corporations: If you could make sales through self-e-publishing, you already had a following that could be built on. The opposite was also true: If you could not build a paying audience online, clearly you would never succeed.

So, to be a cyberhit in the 2020s, you had to undercut all competition: The subsequent race to the bottom saw hundreds of thousands of authors starting to give their books away free. With consumers expecting ebooks to cost at most a handful of change, it became impossible for anyone to make any money from self-e-publishing.

Between 2020 and 2030 — the lost decade — the number of ebooks multiplied by a factor of three. However, not only did authors rack up debts, they also found it impossible to dedicate enough time to their craft to become skilled, or even proficient, let alone to experiment and make new discoveries. Time is money, and this generation was unable to put in the 10,000 hours required to perfect their talent and become professional novelists. The result was an entire generation who lacked the skills to generate new fiction, who at the best could re-mash the story franchises from the past — a lost generation.

THE CRASH OF 2032-2034

The powers that be in the new world economy are in possession of the exact facts about the crash of 2032 and 2034, but no one else is permitted to know or share this information. And fictionalizing it is not allowed. However, it is said that global economic meltdown was narrowly averted. Everyone in 2043 is very pleased that this did not transpire — and very grateful to the People’s Republic of China for coming to the aid of the West. No more is said. Or if it is, it is censored by the Great Firewall of China.

LITERATURE GOES META

After the collapse came the new peace, according to Chinese rules. However, where and how could the canon be rebuilt? For over 20 years, no “new fiction” had been generated. The last generation of “professional writers” had passed away in the 2030s. Chinese ownership of the Internet — with its copyright protection, state censorship and imprisonment of free-information activists — ensured that the West could not revert to its old ways of file-sharing cannibalism. So it was forced to write fiction again.

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