I have to admit that I don’t like change at the best of times, and seeing the havoc that Amazon, the Book Depository, Kindles etc have wreaked on the publishing and bookselling industries scares me. I admire those people who can see the positives in new opportunities for publishing, writing and reading. I can only seem to see the negatives. (I admit that in a previous life I would probably have called for Gutenberg ‘s head, thinking that nothing could be better than illustrated script.)
Where some praise the cheapness, versatility and instant availability of e-books, I can only think about the closure of so many bookshops, places where I have spent some of the happiest times of my life, and how words on screen never seems as ‘right’ as words on a page. Others celebrate the fact that publishers are running scared after being the ‘gatekeepers’ of literature for so long. Now, they say, all those great, ignored voices on the slush pile can rise up and be heard. Yet if publishers stifled some unique writers (John Kennedy Toole, for example) they also protected us from being subjected to a hundred million others that are now screaming out in all their shrill mediocrity online. I realise that the distinction between being published in a journal or a book, and being published online is gradually eroding. But for me the former will always seem more permanent, more important, more real than the latter.
Looking at what I have just written I’m aware I haven’t made a very good argument, or indeed any kind of argument. Instead, I’ve described my feelings. As I mentioned, I don’t like change, and we live in a time of unprecedented change for readers, writers and publishers. I hope that a lot of good will come out of it. Other contributors to this forum will be able to articulate that far better than I can. I’m hopeful their responses will make me feel more positive about the future of reading and writing in Australia and beyond.