The Digital Bogeyman is You.
There is a Digital Bogeyman knocking on the doors of the publishing industry. They are calling it Amazon. But the digital bogeyman is not Amazon. The digital bogey- man is you. Last week, bestselling authors Stephen King and Donna Tartt, along- side 900 of their comrades, released a full-page ad in the New York Times to protest Amazon's monopolistic poli- cies and how it is damaging the publishing industry. But a wider clarion call to the con- sumer might have helped.
Even as the increasingly nasty public scuffle between the internet giant and Hachette has come to repre- sent the larger war between Amazon and All Publishers (and All Lovers of Literature, Inc.) - and even as its outcome is being touted to forebode how the future of publishing itself will pan out - the irony is that we are shying from naming the real culprit: us.
It is the digital freeloader (ie, you and I) that has hunted down the music and film industries and is now, almost certainly and without mercy, destroying the pub- lishing world. So, while it has become fashionable to attack the likes of Amazon, Apple and whathaveyou.com, some soul-searching as to when the carnage began might be edifying. Because Digital Armageddon did not start as a full-throttle slasher a la Friday the 13th with Amazon top execs wielding chainsaws (speaking of chainsaws, e-books are massively eco- friendly, by the way, whether you buy them on Kindle or not). The beginning-of-the- end happened more at the pace of a science-fiction chiller. Think about it: after years of buying CDs and books and newspapers and DVDs, the internet gave us the option of not buying any of these in a staggered phase panning 15 or so years, an option that we exercise.
The carnage this has caused has irreparably damaged entire industries such as cinema, film, music and publishing - all agents of culture. While music, in the wake of the digital bogeyman, has diver- sified into making itself even more of a circus (concerts, they say, have never featured more razzmatazz) and Hollywood has gratuitously dumbed down to become a franchise factory of superhe- roes (and other ineffable hybrids), a similar response
cannot be enacted by the publishing industry. The Jaipur Literature Festival, Asia's largest, has a footfall of over 1,00,000 participants. But try and put a price tag to the event and you might not find too many punters.
In 'buying' into a culture that does not pay the artist, or indeed the 'capitalist' agents who dispense the artist's craft (an HMV store in Hong Kong had the decibel levels of a wake on a recent weekend), the net-savvy customer has created a monster that is as insidious as it is mind-numb- ing. A cyber citizen of freebieland is thus consuming culture while simultaneously destroying the agencies that nurture it. If the customer at the end of an internet line has so little respect for the film- makers, writers, musicians and artistes, why would Amazon care? It is something Stephen King and Donna Tartt ought to think about before they corner Amazon about its policies.
Vishwas Kulkarni is editorial consultant at Campaign and The Week
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