(Pam Slim here once again to give you a sneak peek into a discussion between Martha and Seth Godin. Both are doing a lot of thinking about the future of the publishing industry, as well as the emerging role of author as coach and leader. Enjoy, and please share your reactions in the comments below!)
Drawing and painting were used to convey images before photography, so representational art was considered most valuable. When photography was invented, realistic images could be replicated easily and accurately, so the value of drawing/painting as representation collapsed. Impressionism and other non-representational genres emerged as “valuable” art.
For centuries, the only way you could hear a musical piece written by a certain musician was to write down the music note for note and get another musician to play it exactly as the first one had. When recording equipment was invented, replication was easy and accurate. Immediately, jazz and other improvisational forms became highly valuable.
You see where I’m going with this, right? Since Gutenberg, the printed book was the cheapest, quickest way to transfer a large block of written work. With Internet technology making replication quick and cheap, publishers everywhere are seeing themselves become unnecessary.
Question: What is the literary equivalent of impressionism or jazz?
Because that’s what’s going to become valuable in what has always been the book world. I have a few ideas of my own, but I’m dying to hear your take on this.
Painting and music moved in two different directions because of technology.
Painters discovered that in order to succeed, they needed to become more human, more emotional and less like cameras. Pushing to the cutting edge and being personal were the two ways painters thrived over the last hundred years. When you see a painting, you probably know who made it.
Musicians discovered that in order to succeeded, they needed to create music that would spread, recordings that would be shared and talked about and bought in bulk. They didn’t write on commission for the king, they wrote for the radio. Ideas that spread, win.
Writers are discovering that a book that tells people how to do something is obsolete. Knowledge no longer needs to live in an arcane format like a book. And facts are free, because they spread easily.
So, writing that is worth paying for is either encased in a souvenir-like rarity, like a limited edition, or a reading or a conference…or it’s delivered quickly and personally so that the convenience and exclusivity is worth a premium or it’s personal and direct… almost bespoke.
The last is the biggest opportunity. Our tribes need leaders. We need people who will assemble and introduce and connect and lead. People who will help us get to where we want to go. Writing (at least a certain kind of writing) is now more like coaching or governing or teaching. And there’s a real shortage of that and we’ll happily pay to be part of this tribe if someone will only step up and lead us.