The Guardian asks, “Are books dead?” If so, what that might mean for Korean literature: Part I

A very interesting post in the Guardian entitled Are books dead, and can authors survive?

In short, it argues that books are likely dead, an argument that I agree with in parts, and that “authors” as a kind of hallowed creature, will certainly decline, if not disappear. The author, Ewan Morrison, is clearly in a great rush to bury books, so some of his argument seems forced, but in many way he also maps out a future of literature, albeit a future that is less and less in traditional ‘authoring’ and certainly less traditional publishing.

The lede is this:

Will books, as we know them, come to an end?
Yes, absolutely, within 25 years the digital revolution will bring about the end of paper books. But more importantly, ebooks and e-publishing will mean the end of “the writer” as a profession. Ebooks, in the future, will be written by first-timers, by teams, by speciality subject enthusiasts and by those who were already established in the era of the paper book. The digital revolution will not emancipate writers or open up a new era of creativity, it will mean that writers offer up their work for next to nothing or for free. Writing, as a profession, will cease to exist.
Morrison quickly limns the nature of the disaster for traditional literature, and then goes on to follow implications for individual authors. While I don’t agree with all of his content here, the rest is interesting and suggests a much flatter playing field for literatures and authors of all types. Morrison draws his conclusions from what he gleans from the previous experiences of:
  • Home videos
  •  Music
  •  Porn
  • Computer games
  • Newspapers
  • Photography
  • Telecommunications
  •  The internet
In some ways, Morrison suggests his own solutions, at the very least noting that historically there has been support of artists of all sorts by corporate sponsors of one kind or another. In another way he doesn’t seem to get that the corporate profit  has disappeared from these industries (take music)  at the same time that successful middle level bands can make more direct money by touring or selling secondary products (take music). Worse, he randomly conflates industries which are by nature multi-creator (telecommunications) and those that are specific to artists (music, publishing and porn).   In addition, with particular respect to publishing,  Morrison seems unaware that he is talking about the decline of the publication industry, perhaps even more than authors.
And yet, his point seems solid – traditional approaches to publishing will have less and less traction in the world that lies ahead for publishing. And this, particularly, may be bad news for Korean translation of literature, because it has been, if anything, always 15 years behind whatever the current reality is in the field of publishing.
And yet, at the same time, it is a powerful opportunity if Korean translated literature can take an agile and cutting edge approach to dissemination.
And that is where I leave this post, to be followed up tomorrow with some conclusions.

3 thoughts on “The Guardian asks, “Are books dead?” If so, what that might mean for Korean literature: Part I

  1. I read that the other day and didn’t really feel it was much better than most of the million and one articles on the subject that are published every year. It feels to me like “authors” are giving up and just writing about the decline of their profession. And getting paid for it.

    Personally I do feel that the book will continue to reinvent itself and that authors will continue to persevere. Bad times will probably lie ahead… but in the end it will continue as a viable profession for a few. I think one of the problems is that there are now more authors than ever. Over the past 100-odd years it seems everyone has tried their hand at writing, and inevitably it’s become unsustainable.

    Anyway, good writing is good writing and it will survive. And appealing shit will survive too. It’s just that there will be a little less of both, and only the best will make the cut.

    Oh yeah, and you linked to the mobile version of the Guardian, rather than the full version. Just erase the m. at the start of the link.

    (I’m not just saying this because I have a book out next month…)

  2. I saw this and thought of you:

    Up-And-Coming Writer Jo Chong Un

    The reading public is enthusiastic over The Biography of Martial Masters (five volumes) authored by Jo Chong Un, a member of the fiction subcommittee under the Central Committee of the Writers’ Union of Korea. It is a historical novel set in ancient Korea covering the period from Koguryo, a powerful nation lasting from 277 BC to AD 668, and its successor Palhae from the late 7th century to the early 10th century, to Koryo, the first unified state of Korea existing from 918 to 1392. Based on the historical facts, it presents a vivid picture of the vigorous struggle of the Korean people for territorial unification and national prosperity.

    After reading the novel, the reader will think its writer is an old man with grey hairs. To his surprise, the writer is a man in his early 30s. How then could Jo succeed in writing such a bulky historical novel? Born into a famous historian’s family, he had an unusual interest in history since his secondary school days. He liked reading history books more than anything else. One day he went to Moran Hill with his parents for relaxation. Looking out over the Taedong River and Rungna Islet from the Ulmil Pavilion, Jo asked his father why the pavilion was called “Ulmil.” His father told him stories about famous patriotic army commanders recorded in Korean history. Among them was Ulmil, whose name was given to the pavilion, he explained. Listening to his father, Jo decided to write books about the famous patriotic commanders and martial master-hands.

    After graduation from Kim Hyong Jik University of Education, Jo was assigned to the fiction subcommittee. He chose to write a novel of a historical theme as his first work, and planned to write each volume in three or four months. About his writing plan, his colleagues said in unison, “A historical novel requires vast historical materials and rich writing experiences. Collection of materials is a hard job. So, you had better put your hand to it after getting enough materials and accumulating sufficient experiences.” He curtly replied, “Never mind! I can surely do it by myself in time.” This is how Jo began to write the novel about the martial master-hands recorded in Korean history. Collection and confirmation of historical materials required much labour. Sometimes he had to search the Grand People’s Study House and the Academy of Social Sciences day after day, and other times he had to spend many sleepless nights to confirm the collected materials. The data he had collected during his secondary school and university days were of great help to his work.

    One day, while working over the plan of the novel at home, Jo fell into sleep. His father who returned home from work saw his beloved son fast asleep over the plan of his contemplated novel. With interest he glanced his eyes over the plan. He found it simply refered to the facts about the historical figures. He picked up the pen and wrote down in the margin: A book is a textbook of life for men. This truth is missing in your plan. There are only bare branches without flower, fruit and leaves. It is a historical truth that patriotism brings prosperity to the nation, while treachery to the country invites national degeneration, collapse and ruin. Rewrite your plan in the way it can instill the truth in the people. Here are some materials, which you will find helpful.

    The next morning Jo read his father’s note and an idea flashed through his mind. He wrote the plan over again and studied the data accordingly. His father’s materials proved a great help. After painstaking efforts, he finished writing and the novel was off the press.

    One day several months after the publication of the last volume, he happened to hear in a bus two college students talking about their impressions of his novel. They had a high opinion of his work; they said it gave a graphic description of the patriotic people and famous commanders who shed blood for the unification of the country and the people and for national dignity and sovereignty. Listening to them, he realized he was popular with the readers, and thought that he was rewarded with their trust and high praises.

    Following up the initial success, he is now bent on a new book to pay for the readers’ love for and expectation in him.

  3. Pingback: Are Books Dead (Part II and Partial Mailbag)?

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