Does Digital Publishing Mean The Death Of The Author?

This article by Richard Lea originally appeared on The Guardian UK’s Books Blog on 1/23/14.

We used to know what it took to be a writer – you had to publish a book. But electronic publishing is piling pressure on myths of the author’s life.

What’s the difference between making money out of books and writing books that people want to buy? Turns out it’s about 40% – if, that is, you believe this year’s Digital Book World (DBW) survey.

Only 20% of the 1,600 self-published authors surveyed, and just a quarter of the almost 800 writers with a traditional book deal, judged it “extremely important” to “make money writing books”. Shift the issue to publishing “a book that people will buy” and the figures leap to 56% and 60% respectively.

But of course, you say – this is literature we’re talking about. These authors have loftier concerns than the grubby business of making money. Art is their province. If they must consort with the commercial world to find an audience, then so be it. But heaven forfend they should be interested in something so base as raking in the cash.

Except, in the digital age this kind of logic just doesn’t wash. If all you’re interested in is finding an audience for your work, then electronic distribution allows you to find it without any connection to the marketplace at all. Write your masterpiece, stick it on your website, and sound the trumpets for the victory of Pallas Athene. Or, if what you’re really looking for is the grateful adulation of your adoring fans, stick it on Scribophile or WritersCafe and get ready to feel the love. These days the only reason for worrying about publishing “a book that people will buy” is to “make money writing books”.


Click here to read the full article on The Guardian UK’s Books Blog.


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