Writers' Lives Change When Abundance Is the Problem in Publishing

Kevin Smokler recently commented, “The day Clay Shirky does not say something fascinating is the day
we all pack it in.”

I discovered Shirky last year when his article on newspaper declines spread like wildfire. Go read his blog post, “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable.”

Since then, I’ve read his book, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, and have been eagerly awaiting his newest release (launching today!), Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age—which I will have to wait to read, since it’s not yet available for Kindle.

But I’ve had a taste through various previews and interviews Shirky has granted on the subject. Here’s a snippet from Publishing Perspectives:

I think the key takeaway from that is that abundance breaks more
things than scarcity does. Price tends to regulate scarcity pretty well,
but in the case of abundance, the price goes to zero.

Before the Gutenberg press, you could simply make a living by knowing
how to read and write. And after the arrival of the press, literacy
became a skill every citizen had to internalize. To the point where
government has taken on, at enormous expense, the job of teaching every
child that skill. And while there are exceptions, reading and writing
has gotten so important that you can’t now make a living at it. So, it
is a curious paradox that something has become so important and so
universal, that it drops out of the economic system that we have known
in the past.

I also highly recommend reading Cory Doctorow’s review over at BoingBoing.

I was able to get a luxurious preview of what he has to say when he spoke at BEA last month. I recorded a portion of it with my Flip camera (from the bowels of the audience, meaning you get to see the backs of people’s heads, too). I encourage every writer to take 5 minutes and watch. (And here’s another video of Shirky speaking on cognitive surplus.)

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3 thoughts on “Writers' Lives Change When Abundance Is the Problem in Publishing

  1. Siddhartha

    So, what job do you think readers are hiring writers to do?

    Convey information in an inspiring way? What’s different about writing than listening to a podcast or watching a video? Those other media are informational and inspiring and entertaining (or can be).

    I think reading forces us to slow down and focus. We can’t read books as fast as we could get the same information in an audio or video format. And we’re rarely doing something else when we’re reading, unlike when we’re listening or watching.


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