We are big Jane Friedman fans, and like her down-to-earth approach to the vagaries of the publishing industry. Last week, she gave us her reasons to be optimistic during the disruption of publishing, and as usual, she’s right on the money.
Her article expanded on a recent keynote address Friedman delivered at a conference in Boston, and was sparked by a key question from the audience after her address.
Q: How can we accept the decline of newspapers and magazines, and the quality journalism therein, or accept the exploitation of writers? How can we retain valuable reporting, which requires payment?
Friedman gives a straightforward answer to this tough question.
“Too often we equate content with its container. For much of our lives, quality journalism has appeared in newspapers and magazines, so we equate the decline of that particular industry with the decline of journalism. But the survival of quality writing or journalism is not tied to the future of the newspaper or magazine business. Those are delivery and distribution mechanisms, they are services to readers, and they have become less useful and valuable to us in the digital era.”
Friedman cites industry insider Bo Sacks on the issue as well, quoting him as saying “If you do not have excellence, you will not survive in print. There’s plenty of indifferent writing on the web—it’s free entry, and it doesn’t matter. But quality will out there, too. Really well-written, well-thought-out editorial will be the revenue stream. You must have such worthiness that people give you money when they don’t have to, since they can get entertained elsewhere for free.”
It’s a lengthy article, and well worth a read. The bottom line is that the world has changed, but the fundamental market value of good writing remains — although perhaps in a different container than before. After all, in Dickens’ day, you could make a decent living writing serials.
“As I discussed in my talk, we’re approaching an era of universal authorship. Anyone can and does write now, and because of that, the writers who know how to find and engage their readership or community (to tap into the why), and who enter into collaborations with other authors and artists, hold a dramatic advantage. Future-of-the-book expert Bob Stein has said that if the printing press empowered the individual, the digital era now empowers collaboration,” she summarizes.