"In the world nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes."
So says Benjamin Franklin, whom I understand to be some sort of semi-important historical figure. I hear he's even on money in the States! Thus, I can only conclude he's the American equivalent of our own Robert Burns.
The Speculative Scotsman is perhaps not the most appropriate venue for a discussion of taxes, but Franklin's other sure thing seems to coming up a lot these days. Spend any amount of time on the internet reading about books, video games, movies, CDs, TV... whatever you please, in fact, and sooner or later - very likely sooner in this age of miserable navel-gazing - someone, somewhere is going to be predicting the death of it.
So what's dying today?
Well, publishing, of course. Of late, it's become almost vogue to gainsay the imminent demise of publishing. And I suppose it's not difficult to see why: what with the widespread adoption of eBook readers and the addition of the iPad to an already rather overbalanced equation, it seems that more and more, people are reading elsewhere, if they're reading at all. Sales are down across the board, self-publishing is up, up, up.
As Garrison Keillor writes in his column for the Baltimore Sun:
What a lot of horse. Here's another of his so-called gripes:
"Children, I am an author who used to type a book manuscript on a manual typewriter. Yes, I did. And mailed it to a New York publisher in a big manila envelope with actual postage stamps on it. And kept a carbon copy for myself. I waited for a month or so and then got an acceptance letter in the mail. It was typed on paper. They offered to pay me a large sum of money. I read it over and over and ran up and down the rows of corn whooping. It was beautiful, the Old Era. I'm sorry you missed it."
This is priceless stuff, isn't it?
Clearly, if you don't write your manuscript on a typewriter, it isn't worth the paper it isn't written on. If you communicate via email or use word processing software, you're an amateur.
The man obviously wants to make a fuss. His use of inflammatory language is a deliberate ploy to stir the pot. Publishing is assuredly not, as Keillor would have it, dying. It is only changing - as all things do. That it is not what it once was, that the industry has had to adapt to new technology, new media, new modes of communication, is symptomatic not of the end - woe betide us all - but of evolution.
Over on Flavorpill - thanks to Robert Jackson Bennet for the link - Judy Berman has touched base with a bunch of industry professionals to see what they had to say about Keillor's shameless attention-seeking. If all this doomsaying has gotten you half as riled up as it has me, I'd urge you to click on through and read the responses for yourself. But let me end on a particularly choice rebuttal, from literary agent Colleen Lindsay:
"It is his snobbery that got publishing into this mess. He talks about the coveted New York Times, but the Times doesn’t review the books that keep publishing alive. He is afraid of genre fiction. Publishing isn’t dying, it is evolving, and evolution hurts... Werewolf and vampire porn saved publishing."