The Digital Death of the Writer
‘There will be no more professional writers in the future,’ proclaims Ewan Morrison, in a recent interview with The Globe and Mail. Morrison, a highly respected Scottish author of a new critically acclaimed novel entitled Tales from the Mall, has been engaged in a heated online debate over the future of literature in the digital age.
As someone who has studied English literature at university, worked in a public library and calls himself, somewhat embarrassingly, a ‘voracious’ reader in his CV, my eyebrows are raised when I see such a chilling prediction for an industry I love.
Morrison argues that market forces are now working against the author. He believes that writers are no longer being paid appropriately for their art, and the longstanding relationship between the publisher and author is crumbling. The drive for ‘free culture’ has enabled a new generation of consumer to expect more for less. Morrison describes this as the ‘race to the bottom’ as the quality of art suffers as the artist simply struggles to survive.
So, if in fact this is true, what can the industry do to halt this cultural ‘race to the bottom’?
Morrison’s solution may seem highly controversial. He argues that government intervention is needed to protect the copyright of the artist and create a proper framework for the monetization of the internet. This would mean that consumers would pay for the content they now expect to be free of charge.
Morrison also has the big internet giants in his sights. He attacks the way in which companies like Google gain their revenue through advertisements. In a sense, they are in his mind, leeching off the content that others have worked hard to create. He hopes for an internet that will grow into a model of ‘micropayments and subscriptions’ which will, in time, overthrow the advertising corporate behemoths of today.
However, Morrison has a fight on his hands if he wishes to gain public support. The large companies that define this new dawn in free information are extraordinarily popular with the consumer. A recent survey commissioned by ABC News and the Washington Post shows that Google is currently the most popular company in the U.S. It remains to be seen if the artist, in collaboration with the publisher, can win the war against the free digital culture that Morrison believes is destroying our cultural output.
Personally, I feel that publishers and writers are adaptable enough to find new ways to generate the money to fund their art. The idea of government intervention on the World Wide Web fills me with as much fear as the threat of the death of the professional writer.
Jimmy Wales and Tim Berners-Lee has recently warned us of new legislation by the UK Government that could lead to our online conversations being tracked and stored by the State. I believe that the stakes are too high to keep these two debates, the future of the writer and the role of the State, separate. The freedom of the internet that we enjoy today, must be retained for future generations. A free internet will, without a doubt, inspire incredible feats of innovation that we have yet to dream about. The writer has a role to play in this, and I don’t think it will end with his or her death. Rather, it will offer the writer the chance for a glorious rebirth in a new digital age.
What are your thoughts? Are authors been taken advantage of? Are there still ways in which authors can get true value for their work? Leave comments below