In the 11 years between 1913 and 1924, Henry Ford’s Highland Park assembly line produced more than 10,000,000 Model T automobiles. Though the concept of continuous-flow production wasn’t new (similar processes had been used by flower mills, breweries, and canneries), Henry Ford’s use of the assembly line represented a step change in how America produced and consumed.
However, I’ve recently noticed a reversal of the trend of popular demand for everything “en mass”. Consumers seem increasingly willing to pay a premium for handmade, locally sourced, and one of a kind. This groundswell of demand may hearken the return of the crafts-person, even if the trade remains a niche market.
While print books have been no exception to this trend (see the popularity of the mass market paperback), I think that they are a particularly interesting case. An author may spend months or years crafting a single novel, and then the work is mass produced and widely distributed like a commodity. With the rise of the eBook, this has only become more apparent. After all, Amazon’s initial business model was based on selling fiction at commodity prices.
However, the consumer still views fiction as a work of craftsmanship. We often talk about buying books from authors rather than from Amazon or Barnes & Nobles. Signed books are inherently more valuable than otherwise identical, unsigned copies. Readers want to meet their favorite authors and often will travel great distances to attend a signing or panel. We readers want to get to know the person behind the worlds, words, and characters we love so much.
Just because fan mail has transitioned from physical letters to tweets, Facebook posts, and email doesn’t make that desire for connection any less real or fundamental. This is especially true for signings and convention appearances, but also extends to our online presence. With the increasing relevance of social media, our readers are no longer satisfied by a two dimensional bio. They want to know more about our lives, what we enjoy reading and doing when we aren’t writing, and what we think about what is going on in the world.
Don’t get me wrong. Even though writers are semi-public figures, we are still entitled to our privacy. However, whatever we share in the public domain can and will be viewed by our readers. Therefore, we need to put thought into what parts of our lives and personalities we are willing to put up online.
As writers tend to be introverts the attention and fan-love can become overwhelming, but I’m of the opinion that we owe those moments to the reader. So long as the reader hasn’t violated the social contract by crossing lines of privacy or obnoxious behavior, there is no good reason to be rude. After all, you don’t know how far that person has come to see you, nor do you know the long term impact of a few kind or unkind words.Tags: Interludes