Monday, January 26, 2009

do Web sites sell books?

Unlike many writers who lament the fact that their work-a-day lives steal time from their novel, poetry and short story writing, I love what I do. Extracting the essence of a person, a service, a product, and being part of a team that comes up with a Web presence for that entity is at least as fun as concocting fake people and perplexing conundrums. That is why I was thrilled to run across this New York Times article on Web sites for authors in my due-diligence perusal this afternoon.

(image is from "Sign Language for Infidels" from Sloan Crosley's Web site)
Seems that the verdict is still out on whether Web sites positively impact book sales, but, more and more, they're becoming a vehicle for setting the tone (or brand, if I may be so brash) that surrounds the gestalt of the book and/or the author. As Internet interactivity becomes increasingly a consumer expectation (and, I think we're just grazing the iceberg on this one), the original object associated with prose will need to evolve in order to compete.

Last week Time Magazine offered some food for thought on the digital age impact on books. It's not just about audience preference. As publishers fight to keep their doors open, they are considering revamping the age-old system of the "author advance," as well as the consignment arrangement publishers have with booksellers, where they finance shipping and overstock. Kindle is gaining traction, as more and more readers opt for immediacy, less bulk and greener ways to receive inspiration and entertainment.

Here's the most frightening (to this writer, anyway), development, the Time article points to ways that novels are being separated from the dollar, meaning, everyone's a novelist! Even if the medium is an iPhone, and even if the price is free. Yikes!

To sum up my thoughts on this, taking into consideration the following (from the Time article):"The novel won't stay the same: it has always been exquisitely sensitive to newness, hence the name," and understanding that if it's a choice between commodifying the novel (or short story, or poem etc...) via a stunning and creative Web interface, or just declaring the whole damn channel "open source," and, at the risk of sounding like I'm buttering both sides of my bread, I'm all for sexing up our marketing efforts to ensure that writers aren't forever relegated to the exit ramps of Interstates with their proverbial cardboard signs.


  1. Anonymous8:38 PM

    For me "the digital age impact on books" is not bad but it's not well organized. The junk data is too much that we sank in it.

  2. All that the separation of writing from the dollar means is that writers have to write better to catch their audiences' attention. Right now, a lot of crap gets sold between fancy 'Vintage' Penguin covers, just as frequently as is downloaded free from the Internet. Really. Most fiction between covers is unreadable. Half the fiction in the New Yorker is unreadable. I feel no pity.

    The situation for writing is analogous to the situation for music.

    Writers are spoiled and expect financial reward for loving to write, which also makes them whores. Perhaps separating dollars from writing will test their artistry in the right way.

  3. Whores, David? How provocative!

    This idea of the cream rising to the top is always bandied about, and I'd like to agree with it--UNLESS the critical mass of Internet drivel redefines (read: lowers), even more, the base level of quality writing, and what readers accept as quality writing.

    Immediacy doesn't have to equate with sloppy, but often it does.

    Yesterday my good friend and colleague, Cheryl Strayed, wrote a "stunning" version of that awful thing that gets slapped around on the Facebook: 25 things about me, or some such. Often, my enthusiasm for navigating the results of that exercise when it hits my inbox is about the same as it is for chain emails involving charming pictures of anthropomorphized animals, but Cheryl shaped such a lovely, lyric piece with the prompt--it literally took my breath away.

    Our collective Facebook response to that piece was: this should be in an anthology. Meaning: Wouldn't it be great to read a collection of musings as poetic as this?

    Alas, it probably won't happen, because people are too busy reading unpoetic, flat and narcissistic accounts of their pseudo-friends lives for FREE.

    Look, when one's livelihood is dependent on people buying books--when a person has invested an entire LIFE in writing, and that writing is stunning, it's disconcerting, to say the least, that likely there will be no, or very limited, financial compensation.


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