The Future of Publishing in America

18 million authors in America, each with an average of 14 readers, eight of whom are blood relatives. Average annual earnings: $1.75.

—Garrison Keillor, "Coming to the end of an era in publishing," Chicago Tribune (May 26, 2010).

Keillor's piece is a great read, brimming with biting nostalgia. He writes about the upside and downside of the utterly democratized publishing model that is quickly gaining ascendancy: "The upside of self-publishing is that you can write whatever you wish, utter freedom, and that also is the downside. You can write whatever you wish and everyone in the world can exercise their right to read the first three sentences and delete the rest."

After proclaiming that book publishing is about to "slide into the sea," Keillor writes an entertaining run-on sentence that captures the decontextualized nature of new media:
We live in a literate time, and our children are writing up a storm, often combining letters and numerals (U R 2 1derful), blogging like crazy, reading for hours off their little screens, surfing around from Henry James to Jesse James to the epistle of James to pajamas to Obama to Alabama to Al-Anon to non-sequiturs, sequins, penguins, penal institutions, and it's all free, and you read freely, you're not committed to anything the way you are when you shell out $30 for a book, you're like a hummingbird in an endless meadow of flowers.

Arguing that "self-publishing will destroy the aura of martyrdom that writers have enjoyed for centuries," Keillor recounts the angst-filled process of manually writing a book on a typewriter and sending it to an editor in New York "in a big manila envelope with actual postage stamps on it."

He's convinced that getting an acceptance letter via snail-mail was uniquely gratifying. He concludes,
It was beautiful, the Old Era. I'm sorry you missed it.

New Media
July 7, 2010


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