The issue with print media at the moment is essentially due to a massive marketing fuck-up. I feel that the problem here is not the death of the novel itself, but a serious problem with the manner in which big companies cordon off the market, jack up the prices and stamp out all competition. I think it is somewhat ironic that some of the very bookstore chains that took over the market – I’m thinking Borders, Angus and Robertson etc. – are now going bankrupt as customers take their business elsewhere (i.e. online) in order to buy books at competitive prices. And fair enough. I’m a student, and I’m sure as hell not going to pay $35 for a book when I can get it for half the price online. I understand that rent and staff must be paid in physical bookstores, but the twenty dollars difference between buying Madness and Civilisation from a bookstore and buying it online makes me wonder, where the hell does that twenty bucks go?
Not that I’m not sympathetic to the plight of the bookstore; it saddens me to see those safe havens, those pockets of paradise, crumble. I found myself in Borders on Lygon St one Saturday night whilst friends went on the necessary food-finding mission that occurs halfway through a night out, and it was incredibly depressing to be in a closing-down bookstore. As I wandered around half-heartedly flipping through the detritus left on the shelves (obscure serial sci-fi; Mills & Boon-esque romances that I sincerely hope no impressionable young man or woman ever reads; remarkably uninspiring retellings of inspiring solo treks across some icy tundra or other) I felt like I was rifling through the pockets of a corpse, trying to scavenge myself a pretty trinket, a gold tooth, a coin-filled purse. I browsed the shop fittings, empty tables, shelves, CD racks, and thought Christ, even the bones of the beast are for sale. The great carcass is lying there, putrefying, waiting for the scavenging public to pick away at the dead flesh until it is stripped clean so that some other superfluous chain store can set up in its place, only to suffer the same fate in a few years.
I certainly think that the advent of the Internet has heralded a new form of writing, but I see no reason why novels and e-forms can’t live side-by-side and play happy families. After all, the photograph didn’t replace the painting, and cinema didn’t replace the photograph: all three mediums coexist happily, and feed into each other in a wonderful way. I see e-writing as simply another medium that can take its place alongside other forms of writing.
As a young person who is also a writer (I dislike the term ‘young writer’; it makes it sound as though the amount of years I’ve been alive is some kind of indication of my artistic merit) I feel that I’ve been expected to jump on the e-wagon with more fervour than my (perhaps less agile) elders. ‘Cross-platform media’ is one of the buzzwords in my creative writing degree, and we have been urged to look to e-forms as the future of the writing industry. Nonetheless I remain relatively technologically backwards – to me a ‘smart phone’ is a phone that can call the right person when I type in the numbers and press ‘call’, and twittering is that beautiful noise that birds wake you up with at sunrise.
After doing a work placement with Alec Patric (part of which involved starting a blog) I find myself being swayed ever more to the way of the web. Not least, e-writing opens up whole new pathways of collaboration not only through being able to create interactive forms of writing, but also with other forms of media. I feel there is a long way to go before e-forms become the new literary standard. Firstly, if we’re talking about literary standard then that brings in the whole debate about what constitutes a ‘literary standard’.
The suggestion of a ‘literary standard’ implies the sense of something that is more regulated than, say, Facebook. It’s like a toilet wall versus War and Peace (though it should be noted that I’ve read some incredible things on toilet walls, and I only got through the third page of War and Peace before I put it down to collect dust.)
The blog is the first step towards an e-form, though anyone can start a blog, and the interactivity and accessibility of the Internet gives everyone the opportunity to publish online. Does this mean that in the future, anyone can be an author in the realm of this new e-form? Regardless, the Internet has widened the playing field as far as writing goes, and I find that exciting. I’m not yet ready though to tweet my epitaph for the novel.