Initially today’s post may seem a bit off topic. However, I can assure you that there is an association with Route 66, our primary topic of conversation here.
While Al Gore and his cronies have been finding new and creative ways to profit from changes in the weather, and wars and rumors of war dominate headlines, the world of publishing, and subsequently writing for fun and profit, has been undergoing a rather radical transition. The potential ramifications, as well as benefits, are rather dramatic in nature.
Author Jim Hinckley at a signing of Ghost Towns of Route 66 at the Route 66 Museum in Lebanon, Missouri.
First, this link is for a story that will set the stage for today’s discussion. The advent of blogging and e-books, and to a lesser degree digital photography, have made it possible for anyone with a computer, Internet access, and a digital camera to become a photographer and author.
This combined with a decline in literacy, instant messaging, a litany of abbreviated terms and words used in text messages, and a sensory overload of streaming images at every turn have rendered the traditional role of the author and publisher obsolete. This is not to say that it is impossible to earn a living as an author, as a journalist, or as a photographer.
In times past books were written and published on paper, thoughts were developed through reading those books and taking notes on paper, and the author or journalist was paid with paper, either checks or dollars. Now books are written electronically, published as e-books, and are marketed electronically to potential customers who increasingly utilize leisure time for stimulation through visual entertainment rather than stimulating the imagination with the written word. So, for the author in this modern era to succeed they must pursue digital currency rather than dollars and find creative ways to stand out in a veritable sea of similar authors.
This is not an easy task, especially for an individual who has difficulty adapting to new technologies and the demands, as well as whims, of a rapidly evolving market. As an historical analogy consider Studebaker.
In the 1870s, Studebaker was the largest manufacturer of wheeled vehicles in the world. The company continued building wagons and carriages well into the early 20th century. However, in the late 1890s the company initiated limited production of an electric car designed by Thomas Edison, and in the years that followed slowly phased out the production of horse drawn vehicles and related equipment.
The modern author must emulate Studebaker to succeed. They will need to continue the pursuit and promotion of traditional work such as books and feature articles, but they will also need to increasingly turn toward the development of non-traditional work and promotion.
As an example, 66 The Mother Roadis now on the fast track toward success while a traditional and venerable publication such as Cars & Parts withered on the vine and died. With the death of Cars & Parts after nearly a half century of publication, I lost my position as associate editor, and witnessed the market for publications on paper narrow in a dramatic fashion in the following months.
I now write for 66 The Mother Road. I also use that publication to promote my books, which are printed in the traditional manner that in turn requires the traditional methods of promotion including appearances and book signings.
Still, as the market is now saturated with authors (good, bad, and indifferent) and there is a glut of free material available, the potential for the sale of work is constricted. Likewise with photography.
This leaves the author, and potential author with but three choices. Accept royalties that often do little to offset the expense involved with the creation of a book as well as royalties on declining sales, accept electronic dimes for your work but sell millions of copies, or find creative ways to inject a gift for writing into the barter system.
More than a dozen years ago I hit upon this vision of the future but allowed myself to be blinded by the reality in my myopic quest for traditional success. During this endeavor that provided a glimpse into the future I transformed my talents for writing into a chapter about Chevrolet truck electrical systems for a book on restoration in exchange for a complete wiring harness for my truck.
Now, if I can just find a way to create an electronic version of the homeless person on the corner sign that reads, “Will write for food.”