So we know what sort of literature we can expect and we know what it needs to be successful. What else will the Internet do for literature? Well, here's where things get interesting.
A few years ago, Stephen King offered an ebook for sale through, I think, Amazon. It was quite a moment in the history of King's authorship and e-publishing because it couldn't have bombed worse if it was dropped on Baghdad. Nobody wanted the damn thing. I would imagine that one of the reasons was the simple fact that people could read a chapter or two for free, then buy the rest of the book. Of course, Stephen King can't write a decent novel to save his life (The Stand excepted) so the first couple of chapters of one of his books would absolutely ensure that nothing good would come from it. Well, except for nobody reading the damn thing, which is always a good thing with Stephen King. However, he's still popular for reasons that even his avid readers probably cannot figure out, so he seemed like a safe bet.
But, as said, the book flopped like a beached tuna and there have been very few forays into electronic publishing from other writers. However, the problem is that everything was backwards. The Internet is not a realm for book writers. Instead, books are going to be invaded by Internet writers.
Maddox, the writer of The Best Page in the Universe, is writing a book. Why is he writing a book? Because it's going to sell like you wouldn't believe. The Best Page in the Universe has a very avid fan base and I'm willing guess that everybody who reads it is going to buy his book. There is something to be learned from this.
Popular Internet writers are going to be recruited by publishing companies rather than published writers moving to epublishing. Maddox has a book on the way. Tucker Max already has two books out. Yes, they're both assholes, but they are popular, funny assholes and they sell. There are few sure things in publishing and book publishing companies are always on the lookout for the next big thing. So if they can get the next big thing, they are going to go after it.
Since book publishers are looking for good, young writers, they will be offering book contracts to Internet writers. Of course, popular Internet writers will be picked up at a rapid pace in probably about 5 years or so. In fact, book publishing companies will be hunting for popular Internet writers. Which means that book publishing companies will be competing against each other for a very limited number of writers. Which means that the companies that lost out on one writer will be looking for the next writer to pop up. If I guess correctly, that is going to make things get very interesting on the Internet.
Ten years ago, record companies were swarming the Seattle area, trying to find the next big band to follow Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, etc. Of course, Seattle isn't that big of a city and the bands eventually got tapped out. So they started signing anybody who sounded vaguely grungey wherever they were. That meant bands like Bush and Silverchair. However, these bands still got their contracts, turned out their shit music and then went away, thank God. However, it was still quite a time to be in music, because the record companies were on the prowl and they were looking for their slice of the alternative pie. What is the point of this story?
Once again, I am throwing out wild conjecture here, there will be a rush for artists. However, this rush is going to be for writers. Perhaps I'm just being overly optimistic (okay, yes, I'm being way, way, way overly optimistic) but I would expect that, in about 2015 to 2020, there will be a storm of publishing companies, agents and magazines rushing out to find the next Big Thing. Just as "tell 'em we're from Seattle" sold records, the publishing rush will alter the landscape of writing. Instead of writers looking for publishers, publishers will be looking for writers. In fact, they will probably put people on the job of combing the 'Net for talented new writers who might be able to pull in a few bucks. And they are going to find some excellent young writers out there that will stand them in good stead for years to come. They'll also come up with a whole lot of shitburgers that couldn't write their name correctly if they didn't have it punched into their spellcheckers. And people are going to buy their goddamn books anyway. Fuckers.
The upshot of all this is that, in the words of Egon Spengler, "The print is dead." Instead of being a vital life force in writing, it will be subject to the electronic medium. At least for a little while. Don't worry, eventually, they will return to the good old days of churning out prepackaged turdburgers with the regularity of a retiree on Metamucil and prune juice but, for a little while, there will be a blossoming of writing. However, the blossom will be very short-lived. Sure, I'd like to compare it to an orchid, but I really don't know much about orchids, so I couldn't tell you whether they are short-lived or not. Well, anyway, back to the point...
This heyday of publishing will also be a sort of last gasp for the publishing industry. Just as alternative music was a great boon to the record industry, Napster showed up shortly thereafter and screwed things up. Though file sharing was often blamed for the declining fortunes of the record industry, the fact that they spoon feed us garbage every day has more to do with it. Metallica's album didn't flop because of Napster. It flopped because it sucked. Admittedly, Napster allowed people to determine just how much it sucked beforehand, but the Internet is all about information and unless Metallica, or the rest of the music industry for that matter, is going to turn out something that does not make people want to poke out their eardrums, the music industry is going to take a dive. Same thing with publishing. Once we start returning to the days of more god-awful John Grisham novels (go ahead, try to tell the difference between one and the other), the publishing industry is going down faster than you can say "text recognition, file sharing and on-demand publishing".
So we've discussed a few short-term implications of the Internet and literature. Now let's take a longer view.