Thursday, April 04, 2013

Death of the Author

Rick's and Aline's posts this week respectively offered glimpses at what is to come in the publishing business: the selling of "used" e-books and the steady decline of mid-list authors' careers into what Rick eloquently deemed a "hobby industry."

Their remarks are illuminating to say the least. And also depressing and alarming. Then, again, maybe I shouldn't be surprised. After all, Amazon already offers an e-book share program for Prime members. But selling "used" e-books? That makes little sense to me. What the hell is a "used" e-book anyway? Have I seen one?

I may not be able to spot a used e-book, but I know that as a mid-lister, I'd better beware. I probably fit Rick's definition of the hobby-industry author to a T. I have five novels published. A couple years back, I re-acquired the e-rights to all of them. This allows me to price them to sell, using them as advertising and giving me a small income. Now I'm far from the smartest guy in the world, but I know damn well the selling of used e-books will kill my sales numbers. With the sale of used e-books, for all intents and purposes, I will no longer have control of my pricing -- I'll be competing with those selling the used version of my e-books.

When I was in graduate school, in the early 1990s, death-of-the-author criticism was commonly discussed. The premise of this theoretical school is that the author disappears: once the text is read, all context is disregarded, and the work means whatever the reader wants it to mean. As an MFA candidate taking classes with the lit majors, I always found the premise offensive: What do you mean the author's intent means nothing? On second thought, maybe death-of-the-author criticism wasn't so bad. At least the scholars valued the work the author did.

If only the book industry felt the same way.

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