Self-Sourcing Literary Pudding

on Thursday, May 30, 2013
Some time down the track we will be able to pinpoint the very moment artistic enterprise fundamentally changed. I'm willing to suggest it was when Amanda Palmer managed to raise 400 bazillion dollars on Kickstarter to fund her spectacularly mediocre new album. Having listened to it, I'm guessing she spent about seventy bucks recording and the rest building an underground torture kingdom for her and hubby Neil Gaiman to frolic in with their manufactured gold robot minions. Not gold plated. Or gold leaf. Solid effing gold!

Whatever the future common consensus, there is no doubt that crowd sourcing has become a viable model for cutting out the old world gatekeepers and giving people what they want. It doesn't matter how shitty your band/film/interpretive dance project is; if people are dumb enough to want it they can now pay to make it a reality. That's not to say there hasn't already been some great crowd funded art. There's just been much, much more crap.

The idea has yet to properly take root in book land, though I imagine it is only a matter of time. And while my natural inclination is to mock it in advance - I can already see all the Stephenie Meyer/E.L. James/J.K. Rowling wannabes pitching tacky clones to the gullible masses and retiring to the Bahamas on the proceeds - I can't help but feel a small tinge of excitement. Writer, comedian and hardcore Yiddishist Michael Wex recently launched an Indiegogo campaign to fund the translation and publication of a lost classic, Joseph Opatoshu's In Poylishe Velde. That is a good thing. Whereas such works would never have been brought to the English speaking world and, let's face it, would have been consigned to the dustbins of history, people like Wex will be able to breathe new life into them, making our cultural environment far richer.

Crowd sourcing might just be publishing's white knight. For years we've heard about the shrinking advances, the decline in royalties, authors forced to survived on mulched paper and sour milk to survive. Moreover, many good books struggle to find a publisher willing to take a risk in these dire times. With sites like Kickstarter and Pozible, I dare say it will not be impossible for authors to raise more than they might otherwise have received as an advance in the off chance they could even convince a publisher to take the book in the first place. Crowd sourcing might also force more equitable contracts between authors and publishers, lest those that already have a name jump ship and just put their hands out to fans to fund their next project. I don't know. My head is in a bit of a spin at the prospect. It scares me to think that the industry will be overrun by Justin Biebers (or James Pattersons or Dan Browns) but Wex's project gives me hope that technology might yet be used for good. It certainly gives self-publishing the potential for a much more credible future in that it allows for those who choose (or are forced to choose) that path to finally afford editors and designers and layout people so their books won't be so darn shit. The again, a part of me longs for the old days of literary gatekeepers; those who are discerning enough to sift through the dross and present me with the cream of the crop. If a balance can't be struck, what will be left with? More American Idol rip offs? More bloody cooking shows? Another album from Amanda Palmer and Her Solid Gold Robot Orchestra?

Spare me...


Evan said...

I like the sound of the Opatoshu translation drive... but I don't like the e-book focus (even if it were free. I'd pay for print 'n' paper copy).

Anonymous said...

You should check this out:

(And I expect you'll be excited at the prospect of the Julie Burchill book.)

The Bookworm said...

Haha that's brilliant! The future is now. (Though Julie Burchill's books pales next to "Tea connoisseur and angler Chris Yates’s account of the 1981 fishing season". I'd pay for that.)

The Bookworm said...

Also, Evan, I agree completely. He didn't make the target so I'll be interested to see what happens next. Hopefully a publisher might run with the idea and gift us with a hard copy of the finished translation.

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