A major survey of Australian authors in a changing publishing climate was published this week by Macquarie University, and it makes for very interesting reading. I was asked by the Sydney Review of Books to write a piece commenting on the findings. It’s here. Would be very interested to know what readers think.
2 thoughts on “Authors in a changing world”
Thanks Sophie for your articulate, topical article. Many issues you’ve explored arose in the music industry at least a decade before they affected the literary one. As vinyl and cassette swung toward CD format last century, while home-studios abounded, rising waves of musicians self-published CDs to sell at gigs or gain contracts. The advent of email / web made it possible for indies to cast our net wider. (Independence had become particularly vital, as changes to media ownership laws, e.g. in the USA, made chart-rigging easier for a narrowing elite.) Around the turn of the century, my second Australian CD title was picked up by a German record label, caught the attention of a French label, and was later re-released by an American one, by which time the French company had released my next 4 solo albums. Yet technology proved a double-edged sword, not only making piracy easier, but enabling listeners to access music without having to pay. Or to purchase one song instead of an entire album. Or buy an album and burn it for friends. This coincided with the 2008 Global Financial Crash, which presumably hit authors hard too. The combination of technological change + GFC swept like a tsunami across Europe and the USA (our main markets). I lost count of the labels, manufacturers, studios, venues, retailers and indie magazines that went out of business. My website is still littered with links that no longer lead anywhere. Nearly everyone we’ve ever known in the music industry had to modify plans, habits or vocations; many of us are drifting back into self-publishing as we figure that if royalties have slowed to a trickle, we might as well at least create art with 100% autonomy, at our own pace. There used to be a trade-off: we’d let someone advise on song selection or song order, in exchange for their funding of manufacturing, printing and advertising. The ground rules keep shifting. No matter how much technology changes, it behooves us to ask “For whom am I creating?” or “What is my purpose?” or “Why am I here?” Do we need publishers for egotistical reasons, promotion, or royalties? Can they improve our art, e.g. through editing & critique? It’s clever to keep abreast of new technologies, turning them to imaginative advantage. It’s even wiser not to rely upon new trends too naively. Some are fickle. Some are delightful taradiddles, worth a spin. And some are instruments that Banquo warned Macbeth about, trifles that betray us in deepest consequence.
Thanks for your thoughtful response, Louisa. I really agree with you about technology–good to keep abreast of it but not rely on new trends too naively. I think things do shake down in the end!