Interview: Jeff Gomez of Print Is Dead: Books in Our Digital Age (Pt. 2)
Kyle Bylin, Associate Editor, Read Part One
Kyle Bylin, Associate Editor, Read Part One
Has the digital age made possible and brought forth the circumstances and tools necessarily to allow for the emergence of a middle class of authors, who can support themselves on a humble income, as opposed to the ‘star system’ that revolves around ones capacity to become a New York Times Bestseller?
Jeff Gomez: Yes, I think so, although not necessarily outside of the regular publishing system. Instead, the Internet is the biggest asset to come along for the midlist author since the introduction of the paperback. Authors no longer need to rely on their publisher to get the word out about their book. However, they still need their publishers in order to get revenue. This may change in the future if a viable alternative to the current publishing model exists—and it does, in some genres; Elora’s Cave is a good example—but the numbers involved, in terms of both royalties and copies sold, are still small compared to traditional publishing.
Why has the continued ubiquity of the printed book lulled readers and publishers into a false sense of security about the physical nature of books and the business models build around them? And how has it rendered both incapable of imagining things different from the way that they are today?
Jeff Gomez: Well, I think that the printed version of the book that we know today—which goes back five hundred years—has such a ubiquitous psychological hold on us that it seems not only impractical to think of books as anything other than they currently are, but it’s down right heretical. And there’s a reason for this: books have a long and wonderful lineage, which is something that other kinds of mass consumer culture don’t have. Recorded pictures and music is relatively new, barely a hundred years old (in terms of being truly mass produced), so while it may have felt funny at first to download a song rather than buy it on vinyl or CD, or to stream a movie instead of going to a theater or even renting a DVD, we’ve collectively dealt with these changes.
Those new behaviors didn’t go against any instincts in us which seemed or felt archetypal. But when you start to talk about books, it’s a different story. And that emotional attachment has indeed been an impediment to change in the transition from reading physical books to digital books. And the irony is that, if we could only loosen that monopoly in our mind that books have, there could actually be more reading and not less. It sounds counterintuitive, I know, but I believe it to be true in the long run.
During these times of almost unimaginable change in what ways is it “naïve bordering irresponsible” to think that while other areas of our lives are being transformed — that for some reason books and music will stay the same, that those industries won’t be affected by this onslaught of technological innovations, as well as, cultural and societal shifts?
Jeff Gomez: It just seems to me a total fallacy to think that, in world where a movie can be streamed on an Xbox or Playstation, songs can be downloaded—wirelessly—in an instant, and TV shows can be bought and watched on a mobile phone, that books will continue to be printed and read in a physical form. There’s been so much monumental change in the world of culture and media, and I don’t think there’s a medium that’s going to escape being radically transformed by the Internet (in the same way that there’s not an aspect of our lives that hasn’t been touched or changed by the invention and takeover of the Internet). And, of course, what’s exciting about this is not only how the Web is going to change distribution and consumption, but it’s also going to change composition and storytelling. That’s one of the things I’m most excited about: the interactive and collaborative opportunities for storytelling.
What roles have Digital Natives played thus far in shaping the publishing industry now and into the future? And how might their coming of age bring about works that were intended to be read on the screen rather the page?
Jeff Gomez: Well, we’ve seem from their habits that they care more about the content than the medium or format. The fact that new songs debut on Rock Band or Guitar Hero, or that blogs break bands or that the mixtape (in the modern vernacular, meaning a free, download-only release and not something physical) gives exposure to new or existing artists, shows that the Web can be a huge enabler in terms of distributing and consuming content. Once books are part of that process it could play a part in the constant struggle to get teens to read and to keep them reading. This has yet to play a large part in literary consumption, but I can see it being key in the future. And keep in mind that digital reading—which may seem alien and strange to every besides Digital Natives—to them will be second nature. After all, why not? Nearly every other artistic, cultural, educational, and social transaction has an online component, so why not reading as well?
Pick up a copy of this amazing and highly insightful book at Amazon. Read Part One