Thursday, June 30, 2011

Publishers and Academics Today

I was reading a great article by Cory Doctorow in The Guardian: "Publishers and the internet: a changing role?" As readers of the blog will know, I'm really invested in the changing role of publishers in the industry. I like that Doctorow refers to this as "a weird and wonderful thing." I'm actually quite optimistic about the new range of 'publishers.' This is not to dismiss all publishing houses - there are many excellent editors out there who still know how to find and develop talent, but there are problems unique to today's market. Let's not kid ourselves that it's all about good storytelling and writing. Likewise, the proliferation of online 'publishers' doesn't guarantee that good work will always find its audience or that artists will be better off. Artists and authors are increasingly having to learn new tricks and trades to survive.

One of the commenters, UnpublishedWriter, noted: "I guess it also says a lot that this is in the 'Technology' Section rather than 'Books.'" Indeed. The ability to be tech savvy is becoming as important as being able to write well.

But what about English Lit. academics? Is our role changing too? Yes. Of course, academics are always debating the state of the discipline, so it's nothing new that our role is under scrutiny today. The question that really interested me after reading Doctorow's piece is whether our role as 'gatekeepers' is changing too. I've heard many colleagues talking about how we have a great range of truly wonderful literature to draw upon. Yet, universities all over the world seem to teach from the same selection of novels. I'm as culpable as anyone! What will we do as published work spreads across the online environment? As increasingly obscure works are unearthed and made accessible thanks to sites like Google Books? Will we increase the range of literature we look at now that more literature is readily available?

I'll need a few more cups of coffee before I start positing answers, but in the meantime, I thought I'd quickly share one of my own favourite artists who has taken advantage of the potential in the environment, Marian Call. Yes, it's music, but there's lyrics, and to me, that counts! Plus, there's a very cool use of a typewriter.

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