David Bergen on the Future of Books


Earlier this month David Bergen responded by email to a standard set of five questions that TWR has posed to more than a dozen Canadian writers.

1)    We all know that Dan Brown and his ilk can sell product in any form, ebook, pbook or otherwise. But what do you think will be the impact of ebooks on literary publishing in the near term?

Well, the sad fact is, many readers see Dan Brown and his ilk as literary. I had imagined that because Dan and I both go as DB I might ride on his coattails. Not to be. Conclusion: literary publishing is fucked.

2)    How will your role as a writer change as a result of the increasing adoption of ebooks and ezines?

I will take up writing advertisements for multinationals and oil magnates. Amazon is planning on putting advertising on their Kindle and so the market is ripe, and of course the leap from fiction to writing advertisements is tiny. I have dreams of someone reading Dostoyevsky on their Kindle and becoming bored with this Russian idiot and sliding over to the app where they can shop for a new Lexus, based on an ad that I have created.

3)    Do you use or have you tried using an e-reader? What is your impression of them?

Sadly, I haven’t tried one. I have a tendency towards addictions and as they say, regarding heroin, “It only takes one time.”

I saw an e-reader once. Poolside on Lake Antigua last year there was a family of four from Vancouver and they all had one and were all very excited. The mother, a high-strung brunette wearing shorts and clogs and very large sunglasses, exclaimed that she had three hundred books downloaded on hers. She held up her thin arm to which was attached a thin e-reader. I exclaimed with her. We were all very happy.

4)    How do you think the McLuhanism that equates medium with message will apply to ebooks? That is, will artistic forms such as the novel, the short story, and the poem actually change because of the new delivery media, including e-readers, iPhones etc.? What about the impact of so-called enhanced books that include video and music?

Or advertisements? I am, at this moment, writing a letter to Jeffrey P. Bezos, Amazon’s President, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board, in which I am congratulating him on his foresight, his aggression, his ‘take-no-hostages’ approach to bookselling, and his brilliant plan to insert advertising into the banal works of Proust and Flaubert and Augustine. Indeed, I mention Marshall McLuhan. In the letter I tell him about my friend, Larry, who claims the whole e-reader format is a conspiracy on the part of big business and government to control our reading habits and tastes and to influence our acquisitions… and to erase our purchases after a certain number of readings. I assure him that my friend, Larry, is paranoid and old fashioned and bandies about Marxist terms like schöpferische Zerstörung (creative destruction). I tell Mr. Bezos that I am an advocate of free enterprise and capitalism and believe firmly in his vision. Though I do ask him, with a certain amount of chagrin, if he might trickle a little advertising revenue in the direction of the writers, who are slightly bereft, and have taken to leaning out of their garret windows and throttling pigeons for lunch. But, I say, on a hopeful note, at least they still have lunch.

5) In what ways will paper books change in the next few years because of ebooks?

Twenty or thirty years from now my grandchild of sixteen will be eating across from me at a family gathering and he will relate the anecdote of finding Grandpa’s ‘book’ at Valu Village. “It was like yellowed around the edges Grandpa. Cool. It had a smell.” “Yes,” I’ll say, “That was way back, when we wrote literary novels. Before I went into advertising.”

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David Bergen

David Bergen is an acclaimed Winnipeg novelist. His latest book is The Matter with Morris (HarperCollins).