Friday Reads: “The Culture of the Copy” and “Commodity Publishing, Self-Publishing, and the Future of Fiction”

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Because I collect all my longform reading material on Fridays, I thought I’d start a weekly column where I link to one or two of my favorite articles I found throughout the week.

There was a lot of excellent commentary on the future of fiction, reading, and publishing. Two stood out the most to me: “The Culture of the Copy” by James Panero and “Commodity Publishing, Self-Publishing, and the Future of Fiction” by Jane Friedman.

In “The Culture of the Copy,” James Panero explores the idea that ideas, literature, and technological advances propagate as a result of innovators copying the ideas from the past until they replace the thing they copied. For example,

One way to situate the Internet is to see it as inaugurating the next stage of copy culture—the way we duplicate, spread, and store information—and to compare it to the print era we are leaving behind. New technologies in their early development often mimic the obsolete systems they are replacing, and the Internet has been no different. Terms like “ebook” and “online publishing” offer up approximations of print technology while revealing little of the new technology’s intrinsic nature.

While this solves problems, it also creates new ones:

With each new stage of copy culture, the ease of duplication is countered by the increasingly complex technology required to produce and use the copies it creates. Just as Twain wrote that the bad of the printing press was “overshadowed a thousand times by the good,” the Internet age presents its own problems even as it solves countless others.

This is a thoroughly researched and excellent article if you are interested in the history and future of print culture.

Jane Friedman also explores the future of publishing in her essay “Commodity Publishing, Self-Publishing, and the Future of Fiction.” Analyzing a new movement she terms “commodity publishing” — those writers who produce self-published e-books quickly and frequently in order to maximize sales, despite quality — Friedman breaks down what might be the consequences of this new approach to publishing:

If commodity publishing is here to stay, I can only see its future in the realm of genre fiction, because this is the area where I see sufficient reader demand to drive the kind of volume that leads to a living wage. It’s also the only area where I see authors without qualms about quality, or without any hesitation to produce as much material as possible, with the only limitation the amount of time you can keep your butt in the chair writing.

Most literary authors and nonfiction writers I know are not able to pursue this model. They either cannot produce—or would not want to produce—multiple volumes in a few years’ time.

Friedman poses the question: what will this do to the future of literary fiction or creative non-fiction, which requires more time, development, and patience to create. Will self-publishing authors ever find both commercial and critical success without the backing of a traditional publisher?

Both of these articles are important to read as we consider the future of publishing and the changes to how we read.


Throughout the week, I also collected articles on Twitter about publishing, book culture, and writing. Here were some of my Favorites:

1. The Millions’ “Great 2013 Book Preview.” Start planning your reading for the year! I’ve already added several to my Goodreads “To Read” shelf.

2. Brain Pickings: “Freud on Creative Writing and Daydreaming.” I had to go back re-read sections from my copy of The Freud Reader after clicking on this link. Worth a read.

3. Check out some free articles collected by the curators at The Electric Typewriter. Here is some free David Foster Wallace non-fiction.

4. Can television shows like The Wire and Breaking Bad be classed as “literature”? This article from Full Stop says yes, and I agree. Oh, and check out my reflections on Breaking Bad and Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.

5. Chuck Wendig has an entertaining and informative rant on the “you can’t teach writing” meme over at his blog terribleminds.

Kevin Eagan (@KevEagan) is a freelance editor and writer living in Central Florida. He edits book manuscripts and articles for local and national publications. Critical Margins is his place to share his interests. You can also check out his professional website,