Sunday, March 29, 2009

Text Patterns and Culture 11

--I've been reading through the archives of Alan Jacobs' excellent reading/writing/technology blog Text Patterns the last few days, and a couple of entries stand out. In December, Jacobs--responding to an essay from New York Times reporter David Streitfeld--raised questions about blaming online used book sales for the publishing industry's current woes:

"Seriously? Are there that many people buying used books online? I suppose it’s possible, but my own experience wouldn't suggest that that market is huge. But then, a lot of used book sales are done via Amazon, and no one really knows how well Amazon is doing. Maybe Streitfeld is right and used-books-via-Amazon-and-eBay constitute a major threat to the whole publishing industry. But I have my doubts."

Without any sort of reliable data, it's difficult to tell how much the used-book market has really affected publishers as a whole. And that factor, I think, should be enough to currently prevent any scapegoating of people who buy used books (which is what Streitfeld does). It's also a bit oversimplistic to dismiss the recession and general readership declines as probable causes, even though in would be helpful to have hard data for these areas as well.

More recently, Jacobs has provided--and linked to--solid analysis of the Kindle. "a dialogue" (both the post and accompanying comments) reiterate familiar but still quite valid drawbacks to the Kindle's proprietary format. Conversely, John Siracusa's essay on e-books (found in "linkages") is excellent, and presents a pretty compelling case for why e-books will eventually win over consumers, even if the Kindle eventually fizzles.

--Culture 11 was the original host for Text Patterns, but it became defunct in January after exiting less than six months. As Charles Homans wries in his article on the website's rise and fall, its goal was to serve as "a place where social conservatives could talk about culture—a safe zone between the purely political critiques of the conservative media and the secular liberal criticism that dominated the mainstream media..." The concept that Cultural 11 writer Conor Friedersdorf had of providing narrative-based reporting from a conservative angle--with Tom Wolfe as an emulative example--is what I think could have been most appealing. Besides Wolfe, Joan Didion and Garry Wills emerged during the New Journalism period as conservative writers who were remarkably sharp social commentators, and who were willing to commonly deviate from conservative policies. Having recently dipped into Didion and Wills' work as a self-identified liberal, I can see why liberals and conservatives alike have found them compelling. There certainly should be a place today for conservative long-form journalism that doesn't resort to predictable positions and arguments.

Homans suggests that Culture 11's brief lifespan exhibits how conservatives have, since Nixon's "silent majority," continued "to simply wall off the parts of society that they didn’t like or understand, secure in the belief that there were more people on their side of the wall." That's a reasonable explanation, though I think commenters at The American Scene also have a valid point about the website containing a sustainable idea within an unsustainable business model. Regardless, Culture 11 simply wasn't around long enough to fully test its hypothesis that free-thinking, creative journalism could find a home in contemporary conservatism.

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