I generally like Keillor, but he can be a back-in-my-day codger sometimes. According to a new op-ed by Keillor, book publishing is “about to slide into the sea,” and all because it’s too danged cheap and easy to write and publish and read. His prediction: “18 million authors in America, each with an average of 14 readers, eight of whom are blood relatives. Average annual earnings: $1.75”
I’ll let others discuss the financial side. They can parade examples of self-published authors who have large followings and make good money, like the enjoyable and prolific Cory Doctorow. Instead, I call William Blake to the stand. Blake’s work never would have survived any editorial vetting process in any era, even ours, and without his egotistical determination to print it himself, the world would be a poorer place.
If I can play the codger myself, back in my youth we had something called “the zine explosion.” Cheap photocopying and cheap postage made it possible for anyone to be a publisher. There were zines on coin collecting, zines on librarianship, racist zines, peace zines, erotic zines, religious zines, zines espousing socio-politico-economic theories that been developed with the aid of powerful chemicals, mobs of music zines, and literary zines — oh, were there literary zines! I saw my own poetry and satire published across the world: Finland, Turkey, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. (My readership was small, but it was cosmopolitan.) I read poetry and fiction and humor and rants and manifesti from those countries and more. And it was good. Not all of it, not most of it. But I would pluck a piece from the spillage and, as Keillor says, “read the first three sentences” to decide if I wanted to read the rest, just as I do with fiction in The New Yorker. I found many poems, stories and articles that were just as good as those in mainstream publications, but I never would have read them there.
For Blake, creative work was synonymous with worship; every poem, book, story, song, drawing or sculpture was another stone laid for the New Jerusalem, and he exhorted every Christian to contribute to building that city. I’m sure many aspects of modern technology would have troubled him, but “everyone an artist” would not have been one of those aspects.