The Race To The Bottom

This post, by J.A. Konrath, originally appeared on his A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing blog on 8/30/11.

I’ve had a few people forward me the article written by Ewan Morrison for the Guardian, Are Books Dead, And Can Authors Survive?

I mostly agree with Morrison’s prediction for the end of paper (something I’ve been predicting for a while now–print will become a niche market) and the end of publishers (which I’ve also been blogging about for years.)
But then Morrison takes a giant leap and says that authors will also go extinct. He ends it with:

But ultimately, any strategy conceived now is just playing for time as the slide towards a totally free digital culture accelerates. How long have we got? A generation. After that, writers, like musicians, filmmakers, critics, porn stars, journalists and photographers, will have to find other ways of making a living in a short-term world that will not pay them for their labour.
And then:
I ask you to vote that the end of "the book" as written by professional writers, is imminent.
Well, you can go ahead and ask. But you’re wrong, Ewan.
One of Morrison’s problems is being unable to differentiate between the organizations that support artists, and the artists themselves. He uses a lot of examples, and on the surface his arguments seem solid, but they topple easily once counter-examples and some basic logic is applied.
So go read the article, then come back here and I’ll attack it, point by point. I’ll put his points in italics.
Most notable writers in the history of books were paid a living wage.
That’s because publishers, who controlled distribution, decided who would be published and who wouldn’t, and paid those writers advances. Though "living wage" is incorrect, as the majority of professional writers also need day jobs, now and throughout history.
But the end of paper books and publishers does not presume writers will no longer be paid. The model is changing, but writers will still be paid in the new model. More of them than ever before.
The economic framework that supports artists is as important as the art itself; if you remove one from the other then things fall apart.

Wrong. There can be many different types of economic frameworks that support writers. Publishers, the state, ereader manufacturers, and ultimately the readers themselves. I can take away publishers, and even heavyweights like Amazon, and still get paid.
But Amazon isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Without advances from publishers, authors depend upon future sales; they sink themselves into debt on the chance of a future hit.

Read the rest of the post on J.A. Konrath‘s A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing.