There’s a move happening in the world of arts and entertainment, particularly in the realm of the book industry. I might be partial in picking the “particular” part, given that I am a novelist and a poet with a passion for literature, but I believe my point can ring true in the world of arts in general.
Stay with me.
I hear tell that the book industry is in a state of emergency, and has been for years. Apparently, people aren’t reading as much as they used to. E-book sales are climbing, but as digital books are usually cheaper to purchase than printed books, some publishers feel that books are not being sold for what they are truly worth. Physical bookstores are struggling to stay in business while more readers are opting for the convenience and lower cost of e-books. Borders filed for bankruptcy; Barnes & Noble is up for sale. Publishers are laying off employees and aren’t willing to take as many chances on new authors, making it more difficult for authors to get their work out there. As a result, there’s an “indie revolution” happening, as independent authors who have been rejected by traditional publishers are taking it upon themselves to find other means of publication, like subsidy and self-publishing.
I’m an indie author myself (wow—I guess I am, technically) and I’ve picked up on the disgruntled and determined tone floating through the corner of the indie universe that I’ve tapped into. “Traditional publishers are the uppity enemy and we don’t need ’em! They can go under if they want to! We have a voice, and we’re finding our own ways to get things done.” Yet, in all of the buzz and words of doom circulating throughout the industry, there’s something valuable that is in danger of being lost, if publishers and authors are not careful.
You see, what bothers me the most is the notion that people aren’t “reading” anymore, as if there is no longer a desire to read within society. I believe that authors must take into account that while there may be increasing methods for people to acquire the information that they want and need, people are still going to go after the information, ultimately. There was a time when no one had the option of listening to the radio, turning on the television, going to the movies, or browsing the internet, as that kind of technology wasn’t around yet, before books. So, yes, someone today may choose the option of taking a few hours of his time to watch a documentary instead of using those hours to read a book on the same subject, but the detail to be seen here is that the hunger for information is still there, regardless of the form that the information comes in. Humankind searches for knowledge; humankind searches for entertainment. That’s what humans do. But when humans turn on their televisions or click on their e-readers, what kind of content are they being provided with?
Of course publishers and booksellers must take a look at how they do business and the methods that they use as the tide in the industry changes, but in the midst of all that, they should pause to ask themselves, “Wait, what are we really trying to do here? What are we looking to produce?” They have to think about their consumers, as the people who are buying books don’t mean to merely buy them. They mean to read them. Consumers are after the content contained in what they are purchasing. If publishers get into the habit of putting out loads of flashy or fad-driven but poor quality product, with the meager intent of making quick sales, then their plans will backfire. It’s not that people no longer desire to read, but they do desire literature that is, in fact, worth reading. Though it may sometimes take a while for consumers to catch on, they eventually realize when they are being presented with product that wasn’t thoughtfully produced, and they will consequently stop buying so much of it.
Now, I am not against fads or what may be highly popular to audiences at a given time. We are human beings, and every so often, we need something fresh, catchy, and exciting to spark our interest. Keeping up with fads is all fine and dandy, but when fads fizzle out, as they inevitably do, people are still going to long for what is timeless. Matters that remain true to the human condition throughout generations will never get old. When it comes to literature, humankind will always long for a well-told love story, as love never goes out of style. Humankind will always long for accounts about conquering fears or triumphing over enemies; about the sorrow resulting from death and the joy resulting from birth; about degeneracy and righteousness, peril and pain, purpose and hope. And someone needs to provide humankind with these accounts, attentively and intelligently.
The world of arts and entertainment is in danger of losing the vital core in the essence of art if artists fail to view themselves as servants.
Yes, an artist creates because creativity is in his blood, and even if he has no audience but himself, the artist will create anyway, because something internal tells him that he has to. Yes, an artist creates for himself and naturally learns how to cater to himself, enjoying his art as an artist should, but when his art is published or otherwise produced for more people to see, the artist’s motives cannot remain self-serving. That artist has now brought his work out before humanity, and if that artist has any true character, he will consider the needs of the people he is presenting his work to.
Publishers, booksellers, businesses overall, and artists would do well to see themselves as servants of the people they, well, serve—not only figuring out how to get people to buy, buy, buy, but seriously asking themselves, “How can we be of help to society, to humankind?” Indeed, people often need a good laugh to brighten up their lives, and filmmakers who want to be excellent servants won’t carelessly subject their audiences to haphazard film editing in order to just push on ahead to the movie’s punch lines. Otherwise, the art of filmmaking is lost. People often need stirring novels to remind them of the incalculable value of life, so publishers and writers who want to be excellent servants won’t indifferently subject their readers to uninspired filler-content in order to get to the book’s “good parts.” Otherwise, the art in literature is lost.
Artists needn’t be so busy scrambling to produce what they think will sell that they fail to respect the actual human beings who will be affected by the products. Audiences are more than screaming fans or faceless wallets; they are hearts, minds, and lives. And those hearts, minds, and lives will, in due course, recognize it when what they are being served is nonsense, something with no significant value to humanity. I would even encourage us indie writers and artists not to get so caught up trying to put the uppity “powers that be” to shame or to get so lost in the hype of fads that we lose the essence of our art, dishonoring our audiences as well as the truth of our own genius because we are not thoughtful about the quality and benefit of what we create.
We don’t want to lose our worth, the worth found in our brilliance and in the significance of what we produce for the world, and in order for us to be truly great artists, we must be servants of all.