Rethinking Art Economy

I became a published author a few weeks ago. I didn’t publish my own book, nothing fancy like that. I wrote a short story, “Sins Poker”, that was included in a book that collected a total of 13 of short stories by 13 young authors. The story, and the whole book is in Hebrew, by the way. The book name in a literal and direct translation to English is called “Short Pictures: Stories Between Reality and Imagination”.

Short Pictures Cover (from the book facebook page)
Short Pictures Cover (from the book facebook page)

I should note though that me and the other 12 writers were all students at Sapir Academic College, at the Culture, Creation and Production department. We all took an elective course, year-long about biography writing. The course was very intense, demanded us to read biographies, analyze them in different forms and writing stories or mock-biographies in the sense of writing about real person or event but dramatizing it and not just putting down only dry facts and quotes. The intensity of the course + the late hours it was held made sure that only the most serious students will come, and the most persistent will stay. And our big prize for a year long of hard work? Publishing the book with our final stories.

And we did indeed. The book was published in 2 forms: printed, limited edition. The other one is an ebook. The ebook is free for download and can be opened in just about any smartphone, tablet or computer. Some of the writers of the book had previous expirience of writing and publishing in print or online, either stories and poems or just articles and op-eds. Our editor and course professor was Prof. Nurit Gertz-Keinan. A famous author in Israel and world renowned Professor of literature.

We had an unbeatble price (free). some of us already had an audience that follows and enjoy our content. Our editor is very well known in the literature world, both in Israel and abroad. One might think that the book will get a very quick “break”. The book did reach hundreds very quickly and personally Im very greatful for anyone who reads my story and more so if they take the time to tell me their opinion on it. But we hit a plateau.

And thinking about this process of publishing a book, trying to reach audiences, media and essentially trying to “sell” a book made me think about the changes in the art economy.

We know, for example, that literacy skills were not that much widespread few centuries ago as they are today. Before this change, and before print we can assume that many of the books that existed were about theology, some science and maybe some about politics and law. Only selected few could read and write, and only few copies could be made since they were hand-coppied. Written literature as entertainment was scarce.

Arts and artists needed a support of patrons that will pay them for their work, or to be comissioned by a strong establishment or by the rich. But today we live in times of abundance of wealth, time, instruments and knowledge of the different crafts. More people can read, write, theres a boom in literature for entertainment purposes and such changes can be seen in other forms of art. We have more musicians, more painters, sculptures, designers of many sorts. We even have more forms arts than before, we have television and cinema. We produce and consume other forms of arts.

Social networks with focus on text made an impact on reading habits. About a decade ago blogging became popular. In recent years we see social outlets like facebook and twitter keep growing. Yes they also have the visual side with photos and videos but one of their main attractions is the simple text.

People like to read material written by other people. It might be a dramatization of real life event, a fictional story, a story told and written in the known conventions of a story or even humourized version of life event. And some people actually rose up from mere blogging or social networking to the former methods of art making. they published books or became screenplay writers or other forms involved in different fields of art.

But overtime, it should be known that people became used to short texts (or “posts”) and they just consume many short texts during their day. Its probably what popularized what some people might call “nano-literature” – short stories that are made from few words. Also what makes other forms of art or story-telling like memes popular. Easy and quick to consume and rewarding (usually by appealing to sense of humour).

We are bombared with different types of content for hours. People spend hours on their phones, most of it on social media, they enjoy different kinds of content. Photography, stories. Memes. Videos, and who knows what might be next.

It’s also interesting to note that though many people are still using the old terms like writers or artists many of them also add the title of “content creator”, and there are quite many who dropped the old labels and just define themselves as “content creators”. There is a shift from viewing literature and art as what they are to the general definition of content.

Today many researchers will agree that many online users, mostly millenials are both consumers and producers of content. And why not, really? Its easier than ever to create content but not just that, its easier than ever to reach the masses, keep them updated about your work and keep in touch.

And by understanding that the field of literature is changed dramatically we understand that its economy has changed as well. Many people publish daily their “content” online, free to consume. Some more talented than others. And than there is the fact that many people today can publish books. Both in print and ebook forms. I met quite a few people in their twenties that have published a book or about to publish a book thats amazing. And having an actual printed book does help you to stand out of the crowd who just post content for free online, but even in the print world there is so much competition. But its not just young writers fighting for their share, its also a struggle against veterans, well known and respected writers that will probably be the first ones to get the money and attention of possible consumers.

But in the end, this is a positive message. Literature isn’t dead it’s just changing. People have more choice in their content consumption and they have more power to create their own. If you think of becoming a writer and became discouraged, don’t be. Just understand that this is the new field, and you just need to learn how to play in it.

About the Author
Dov Trachtman is an Israeli political analyst and cultural critic.
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