The Future of the Novel

In the February 2, 2009 issue of Time Lev Grossman wrote: “If Old Publishing is, say, a tidy, well-maintained orchard, New Publishing is a riotous jungle: vast and trackless and chaotic, full of exquisite orchids and undiscovered treasures and a hell of a lot of noxious weeds.”  He’s talking about the situation today in publishing novels, as well as in the future.  How refreshing.  He’s not saying that the novel or books are dead, just that publication in the future will be much broader, in multiple formats.

The change has already begun.  Today we have not only hardcover and paperback books, but books on e-readers and in audio formats.  Maybe someday we’ll have writers using sophisticated webcam technology to “publish” their books by reading them to their public.  Or publishing the text online.  I’ve thought that “The Second Life” could offer an effective way to market books to people, also, either by creating the characters in the book living in that environment and interacting with others, or by authors creating avatars of themselves that give book readings and signings at bookstores or other venues in that world.  Grossman does not predict that hardcovers and paperbacks will disappear completely.  He suggests that “Old Publishing” will provide a “premium package” for readers who want their novels to be “carefully selected and edited, and presented in a bespoke, art-directed paper package.”   That’s for me, absolutely.  “New Publishing” would include print-on-demand and electronic editions for e-readers, and Web-only fiction.  In other words, everyone will publish in the “New Publishing” whether or not everyone is truly creative or has something worthwhile or insightful to say.  The “noxious weeds.” (To read Grossman’s full article:,9171,1873122,00.html.)

The problem with “New Publishing” for me is the lack of money or very little money generated by it.  A writer would have a tough time earning a living through “New Publishing” unless a reliable payment method is developed (or the need for money to live is eliminated). 

When I was developing the future world of 2048 for the Perceval novels, I was more concerned about the future of classical music than of literature.  Evan’s father is a writer, but his poetry, essays and novels are published the old fashioned way.  Now I’m thinking that perhaps I need to consider e-readers that look and feel like real books, and that are easy on the eyes.  For Evan himself, he’d prefer old fashioned books.  He’s a low-tech kind of guy, not into gadgets, with no time for the internet (despite the instant connections in the future).

As I think about future gadgets, I’m struck again by the little iPod, ubiquitous on city streets, buses, stores, restaurants.  I see the earbuds and wonder when listening to music became such a solitary experience.  Other than the guys who sing along very loudly with their hip-hop on the bus.  Music is not only for individual listening, but also for group listening.  In the early 18th century, music salons brought people together in private homes to play music and socialize.  Concert halls brought people into a more formal atmosphere to listen to music.  Sports arenas have given music a more populist venue.  But today, I’d guess that it wouldn’t be a regular, normal pastime for most people to gather in the living room and play music together.   So what is the future of classical music?  I think it will survive and even thrive as much as the novel will…..


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