Monday, January 14, 2013

Status Updates

By Published: January 11, 2013

Last year, a line in an article on the fate of Barnes & Noble gave my heart pause — and sent me on an all-consuming tear. If we lose more brick-and-­mortar bookstores, the article noted, the classics in particular will be hard hit.

Right - Tweets by Tim Federle; illustration by Rex Bonomelli

What was the logic? Apparently, while browsing in bookstores, people often pick up classic novels, which are inexpensive and prominently displayed reminders of what we only pretended to read in high school and college but now would actually appreciate. Classics, it seems, are the impulse buy of the bookstore world. Might we get something out of “To the Lighthouse” this time around?

Online browsing, by comparison, places new titles alongside other new titles in similar genres — the idea being that if you like this, you’ll also like more of the same. “Moby-Dick” and “Ethan Frome” simply don’t pop up when you search for “The Casual Vacancy” or “Telegraph Avenue.”

At the time this news hit me, I was in the midst of a “blog tour” for my latest book. It’s no secret that novelists are increasingly encouraged to use social media to sell their wares — becoming authorial personalities on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Goodreads and the rest for the good of sales and brand.

It dawned on me that if all this online networking really succeeds, then dead authors suffer an additional disadvantage. I imagined classics being bullied off online retail sites. Living authors elbowing out dead ones on Facebook and Twitter. “20 Under 40” writers carving out larger and larger slices of the book-sales pie. I could feel the status of the classics as cultural cornerstones steadily eroding.
Suddenly, I was very worried about the careers of dead authors; alas, I aspire to become one. Someday

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