Earlier this month, I wrote a blog post themed to an element of Perfecting Sound Forever, a book that I really enjoyed. In it, Evan Brooks talks about the growth of ProTools, a music-editing product he helped bring to market:
“ProTools was all about egalitarianism, bringing those (music-making) capabilities to literally anybody… Unfortunately, if you allow anybody to make music, anybody will make music, which is a whole other set of unintended consequences.” (p 298 – 299)
That sentiment came to mind as I read a recent post at An American Editor, where the rise of e-books is seen as potentially the death knell for literature. Fear of the new can be distilled by paraphrasing Evan Brooks just a bit:
“ … Unfortunately, if you allow anybody to make ebooks, anybody will make ebooks, which is a whole other set of unintended consequences.”
The tremendous growth in front-list releases that prompted the post at An American Editor is fueled by effective use of print-on-demand (POD) technology. That growth opens up book publishing to a whole host of previously under-represented groups and individuals.
An American Editor equates greater ebook volume with a decline in quality. That assessment misses two key points: greater volume exists today, with or without e-books; and many of the books brought back as POD titles are public-domain classics of established quality but limited appeal.
But there is also a larger set of assumptions at work here.
We have grown up accepting the role of editor as custodian of quality, as a form of gatekeeper determining what gets published. As upfront costs fall, the financial importance of having an editor as a filter declines. That’s uncomfortable, but it’s not synonymous with the decline of literature.
Richard Nash has spoken eloquently of publishing as a club, one built in an era of content scarcity. We like our clubs and lament losing them to the wider world.
There’s life in a new model, though. Yogi Berra captured this inflection point best: “Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.”