If the connection between publishers and writers splits completely, if they fail to support and defend each other, then both will separately be subjected to the markets’ demand for totally free content, and both shall have very short lives in the long tail. The writer will become an entrepreneur with a short shelf life, in a world without publishers or even shelves. But ultimately, any strategy conceived now is just playing for time as the slide towards a totally free digital culture accelerates. How long have we got? A generation. After that, writers, like musicians, filmmakers, critics, porn stars, journalists and photographers, will have to find other ways of making a living in a short-term world that will not pay them for their labour.
The only solution ultimately is a political one. As we grow increasingly disillusioned with quick-fix consumerism, we may want to consider an option which exists in many non-digital industries: quite simply, demanding that writers get paid a living wage for their work. Do we respect the art and craft of writing enough to make such demands? If we do not, we will have returned to the garret, only this time, the writer will not be alone in his or her cold little room, and will be writing to and for a computer screen, trying to get hits on their site that will draw the attention of the new culture lords – the service providers and the advertisers.
Morrison makes many, many claims in this essay, but I do not see evidence for any of them. It’s really just one dystopian assertion after another. Maybe things really will be this bad, but you need to give reasons for thinking so if you want to convince anyone.
And about that bizarre final idea that we should “demand” that writers get paid a living wage: demand it of whom? And who gets to count as a writer? Should I write to my congressman and say, “Because I am a writer, I demand that you pay me a living wage”? And what about painters, sculptors, composers? Shouldn’t they be demanding a living wage as well?
Really, it all just makes me throw up my hands in exasperation. Can we just try thinking of the digital age as one of opportunities as well as challenges? Or must we collapse in a heap of helplessness and “demand” that the political gods care for us?