There's a lot of talk going around about the end of publishing/novels/everything else in the world we hold dear. That is to say it is exactly as it always has been.
Still, like everyone else, I can't help but fall back to my own pessimism. Especially with the unprecedented advent of the internet (something so astonishing it is proof that humans are capable of taking anything for granted, as evidenced by my spellchecker having to remind me to capitalize the "I" in "Internet". For me, as for almost everyone else my age, it is nothing special: it is a mere detail of established existence.) and the ever multiplying selection of E-readers, not to mention the cell phones every person I know now carries.
As an unpublished novelist, I can't help but bemoan the loss of a time when novels were supreme and (so it seems in contrast to the present) the market was so enormous it could contain any author who could care to produce. I will not hesitate to highlight my own professional ignorance on the matter, but from what I've read of the past it seems like the mere act of writing a readable book all but guaranteed its publication. This is undoubtedly an exaggeration born out of despair, but it haunts me nonetheless. It is made no better by articles such as this piece by Lee Siegel proclaiming the death of the novel, which I was linked to from this moderately less depressing article that essentially says, "Who the hell knows?" (Which, to continue my chain of infinite regress, I was linked to from this lovely collection of distraction, humour, and horror.)
But then there is Pomplamoose:
Okay, so they aren't novelists. But they're definitely artists. What's more, they're artists in an extremely commercialized medium that has been shaken by the internet/gadgets/changes in the methods of consumption. We all remember the years of whiny millionaires saying that internet piracy would destroy their incomes. Well, Pomplamoose are a tiny group (two whole people) who were able to take that great fear (fans using the internet to listen to music for free) and turn it into a marketing strategy. More than that. To call it a marketing strategy is to demean it. It is a whole new approach to producing, distributing, and living off one's art. They want you to listen to their music for free. They have a youtube channel dedicated to it. They want you to send it to your friends for them to listen for free. After all: why not? You're only spreading the word for them. Then, when someone decides she likes their music enough to pay for it, she can go to their website and pay a very low price to get it. (Pay for something free!? In the name of Ayn Rand, what ever do you mean?) It is true that the mp3 is of higher quality, and you can occasionally get extra goodies with them, but I think most people purchase it because they want to support the artists that they love.
And they are supported. Without anything going to record labels or men in suits who happen to have the keys to the cash barn and the connections for the salve for the teats of the money cows. (Boy, that metaphor got out of hand.) They were just two cool people who came up with an art form and put it out for anyone to view. Jack Conte and Nataly Dawn do not make up an anomaly in the descent into a cultural dark age, they are a harbinger of the new enlightenment, one of many, and in the years to come we will see more opportunities for artists everywhere to carve new niches and forge new tools, to broadcast themselves not through the homogeneity of television or radio but in the format of their choosing, in ways we cannot yet even comprehend.
What does this mean for novels? For that, I'm back to before: I don't know. But it makes things look a lot brighter, doesn't it?
I will close with a quotation from an article on the same subject by Leonard Pierce: "...people living through a golden age often don’t know. And it’s important that they do, because this golden age, as with all the ones that lie behind us, depends on patronage. If enough people lament the death of culture, culture will die, no matter how sophisticated our means of disseminating it. And what will crush the horn of plenty won’t be the things it isn’t producing, but indifference to what it is."