Dwindling readership of novels by meeks
July 10, 2008, 12:37 pm
Filed under: art | Tags: , , ,

I was doing some more thinking about the supposed decaying state of the novel and came across this piece in Granata magazine.It got me thinking that the dwindling number of readers is not a phenomenon specific to the novel. The nicheification of culture is a well oberserved byproduct of the internet’s accessibility to information.

The new business model – the long tail phenomenon a tern coined by Chris Anderson in his eponymous book– relies on the sale of a large number of unique items in relatively small quantities instead of one of two blockbusters to carry a business. The days have likely passed when an album could sell like Thriller, or a TV show could accrue nelson ratings like Seinfeld. But in my opinion this is not unequivocally a bad thing. It makes for more of a meritocracy as opposed to the old corporate oligarchy. 

The long tail phenomenon though should not be unique to the number of works within one domain but should further translate to the number of unique domains. The Granata piece introduced an interesting idea for one potential new domain – a form of novel in which the words are no longer only literary symbols- “merely little freight containers of meaning, devoid of any importance on their own,” but to also pieces of visual art in their own right. He then related a story about fleeting beauty contained within the form of the words Zulu Romeo Foxtrot. 

I don’t expect future droves to memorize phrases like Zulu Romeo Foxtrot the way in the past they memorized Shakespearean sylloquies; I meagerly predict that the visual will be a spice some future authors will begin to sprinkle into their literature. The classic way of wielding words in only the symbolic dimension I believe was a product of the past’s limitated technology. I find it hard to believe that if the technology was available to the avantgard poet E.E. Cummings that he would be sticking to just adding extra periods for emphasis. I  recall reading that Joyce wanted to use different colored inks instead of italics for emphasis in one of his novels but was discouraged by publishing costs (I could be mistaken though).These giants pushed the literary medium to its limits in their day – now it is time for a new generation to reach beyond literature.

To all those bemoaning the apocolypse, linking dwindling book sales to cultural depravity – fear not. It is probably more accurate to say that the novel’s audience is fracturing rather than dwindeling. And while the audience of the classic novel is smaller, it is probably a more devoted, and appreciative group.


4 Comments so far
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On the whole I am not convinced that the readership of good fiction is declining, and for all I know at some point electronic readers will increase them (though I cannot imagine the paper version disappearing).

I think that the internet has actually increased literacy – or at any rate I feel that argument is worth some analysis… I have pursued that a little in my own blog – see http://universitydiary.wordpress.com/2008/06/22/read-and-write/

Comment by universitydiary

Nothing beats reading a real newspaper and nothing beats reading a real book. Can you fit your PC in the bath, does it bode well for the beach?
But unfortunately electronic everything is taking over.
If you write a really crass novel on a blog, how many people will read it and come back for more? My experiment.


Comment by nicolajaynecoid

why couldn’t mobile electronic readers become waterproof, beachproof, mountainproof, and on the whole generally able to handle anything life throws at them. Electronic readers are already available on amazon (in fact they head the websites homepage). Engineers just need to improve electronic readers durability and cost to implement them onto the mainstream.

Comment by meexiam

I agreed with you

Comment by Cloksmofs

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