In this week’s news, the last company in the world manufacturing typewriters shut down its production plant. Then Time magazine listed four writers in its Top 100 people list, up from zero last year. Are these events connected? I believe so. The ability to write and distribute information electronically changed the world a few decades ago, but the recent rise of e-readers and the ability to access novels and information instantly, no matter where you are, has taken writers to a new level.
News is a self-perpetuating cycle, but for the publishing industry it has become cataclysmic. The more that people buy e-readers, the more they get discussed, and the more they become mainstream. People like Amanda Hocking, a digitally self-published novelist, get write-ups in the Wall Street Journal. Polls show people are reading more and reading more widely… because of e-books. The ability to download and read book samples has exposed readers to more writers than they ever imagined possible. The ability to buy novels for less than three dollars has connected thousands of authors and readers who would have never found each other in the past.
Equally important, access to digital content is shaping our social discussions. Books like Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother generated a huge discussion about parenting, and thousands of readers were able to buy and read the book, then participate. A couple of years ago that would have required a trip to the bookstore and an outlay of around $25, thus limiting the readers who could be part of that discussion.
All of this adds up to great news for writers. We matter more than ever. Thus, the inclusion of writers on Time’s list, and the ability of novelists like me to make a living for the first time. In the past, there seemed to be a dichotomy. People who loved to read admired and valued writers, but the rest of the world either considered us unnecessary or untrustworthy. It’s exciting to see this fundamental shift toward valuing those who craft words.
I can’t help but feel a little sad to hear that about the typewriters. I know no one uses them anymore, but the idea of them not existing… it’s just wrong!