WHAT does it mean to be a digital bestseller? We continue to hear that removing the middleman and getting rid of the expenses of print will be good for readers and writers. The experience of Tony Horwitz, a first-rate writer of narrative nonfiction like Confederates in the Attic, shows it doesn’t always work out that way. He calls his story, “a cautionary farce about the new media and technology we’re so often told is the bright shining future for writers and readers.” Horwitz continues:
As recently as the 1980s and ’90s, writers like me could reasonably aspire to a career and a living wage. I was dispatched to costly and difficult places like Iraq, to work for months on a single story. Later, as a full-time book author, I received advances large enough to fund years of research.How many young writers can realistically dream of that now? Online journalism pays little or nothing and demands round-the-clock feeds. Very few writers or outlets can chase long investigative stories. I also question whether there’s an audience large enough to sustain long-form digital nonfiction, in a world where we’re drowning in bite-size content that’s mostly free and easy to consume.
To the digital utopians, remember, we live in the best of all cultural worlds.