Decline and Fall of Literature (Roundtable: 10/28/10)

#DBW RoundtableThe Roundtable is a live, interactive webcast gathering some of the most outspoken industry professionals to debate the hottest publishing issues of the week, as being discussed in traditional media, the blogiverse and on Twitter. From celebrity book deals to eBook rights and pricing to [insert YOUR pet topic here] — if it’s related to books, it’s on the agenda.

Topic: Decline and Fall of Literature

This episode of The Roundtable was webcast live at 1pm EDT on Thursday, October 28, 2010.


Laura Dawson, Content Chief, Firebrand Technologies
Pablo Defendini, Interactive Producer, Open Road Integrated Media

Special Guest:

Ryan Chapman, Online Marketing Manager, Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Moderated by:

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, Dir. of Programming & Business Development, Digital Book World


A Literary Journal on Every Platform: Electric Literature
Ryan Chapman, Work in Progress

Our mission is to use new media and innovative distribution to keep literature a vital force in popular culture. To date, we have published Michael Cunningham, Colson Whitehead, Lydia Davis, T Cooper, Rick Moody, Jim Shepard, and Aimee Bender, among other great writers. We have more than 150,000 readers following us on Twitter (more than any other publisher in the world) and are successfully expanding readership for short stories through YouTube videos, iPhone and iPad apps, micro-serializing stories over Twitter, and other ways of using new technology and mediums to promote literary content. We believe that digital publishing is dynamic and full of opportunities, and ultimately stories are more buoyant without the weight of paper. For example, instead of paying $5,000 to a printer, we can pay $1,000 to five writers. We distribute everywhere in the world, in every viable medium—eBook, iPad app, audiobook, Kindle, and even print-on-demand paperback.

Why I Created an App For My Book
Stephen Elliott, The Rumpus

The app is different from the kindle or iBook version, both just released. Like the kindle and the iBook it includes the entire book with a proprietary reader, but The Adderall Diaries app also includes a discussion board to talk about the book with other readers, extras like sixty pages of book tour diaries and a video interview, along with a feed to keep you up to date with news and events. I built this app, with the good people at Electric Literature (I don’t actually know how to build an app) (so when I say “I built this app” it’s not technically true), because I don’t like the way current ebooks are packaged. The Adderall Diaries was coming out as an ebook whether I wanted it to or not and I wanted to offer readers a better experience.

Literature, Plugged In
Andy Hunter, Publishers Weekly

Those who claim the novel’s time has passed ignore its value. Nothing captures the quality of consciousness like fiction. Only a great novel can make you truly feel what it is like to be someone else, alive in a different place and time. Literature exercises our empathy, salves our loneliness, and helps us learn how to live. Without Flaubert, Balzac, Dostoyevski, and Joyce, our understanding of human psychology would be greatly impoverished. What doesn’t really matter, though, is how people choose to read. Literature is important; the choice of paper or plastic is not.

The Decline and Fall of Literature
Andrew Delbanco, NY Review of Books

But it is also true that many “traditional” students (the new term for those who used to be referred to as “college age”) are turning away from literature in particular and from the humanities in general already in high school. Among the millions who take the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test (PSAT), usually given in the tenth grade, only 9 percent indicate interest in the humanities. Even at so-called elite institutions, humanities enrollments have leveled off or fallen (at Harvard College, 25 percent of the students—and only 15 percent of male students—now concentrate in humanistic subjects).8 Many who once might have taken time for reading and contemplation now tend to regard college, in Trilling’s prescient phrase, “as a process of accreditation, with an economic/social end in view.” It is always dispiriting to find young people feeling they have no time to “waste”; and even at Ivy League schools, where financial aid, though imperiled, remains relatively generous, it is common nowadays to hear students say they must find a way to finish in three years in order to limit their indebtedness and to get on to “real work.”

Who Really Benefits from the Growth in MFAs?
Edward Nawotka, Publishing Perspectives

For published and working writers who need to supplement their incomes, teaching is often a good option. The growth of creative writing in the academy has created hundreds of jobs (however low paid) for writers who might have had to seek work outside their field. But the biggest benefactor of creative writing programs might just be the universities themselves. Creative writing programs — whether full-time, part-time or low-residency — are relatively cheap to implement. As opposed to staffing and building an new chemistry center, hiring a handful of professors, mostly adjunct, to teach a small group once per week is very affordable.  It can also offer prestige — bringing in a star author for a term or two can lend a bit of glamor to an academic community.

Twitter (as RTd by @DigiBookWorld)

RT @floerianthebard: “Decline and fall of literature”? Or have electronic media increased reading? #dbw

RT @babetteross: I find that concentrated time harder to find because of “life” not the proliferation of screens in my life.  #dbw

RT @pronunciate: Fragmented audiences can be identified now in the digital space, re: genre.  But lit fiction is harder to identify – #dbw

RT @pa4culture: When you hit a niche community you can feel the passion and engagement. #dbw

RT @pa4culture: Real opportunity with poetry is [hearing] the poet read the work as an option while reading the text. #dbw

RT @floerianthebard: #dbw Digital adoption of poetry could spawn *new* forms, explorations. @glecharles Same can be said of stories.

RT @MatthewDiener: #dbw When poets learn HTML, start formatting own ePUBs like they do print, then digital works. Need born-digital poetry.

RT @pronunciate: Literary authors have to find their place in the digital space. There are lots of opps for digital literary products – #dbw

RT @pa4culture: Poetry may end up resurgent. I’m emailing Copper Canyon today. They are representing for poetry out here in WA state. #dbw

RT @pronunciate: Poetry has never died & never will. Same for novels – @ljndawson #dbw


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