Friday, February 27, 2009

A story

We hear it here, here, here, here. Publishing is doomed! It's all over! The model just doesn't work anymore!

Well, let me offer a story.

It's 1598. All across England, writers are wringing their hands. "I can't find a patron!" "Patronage is drying out!" "No earls will sponsor poetry anymore!" "How will the sonnetist of the future get paid?" Citing "cutbacks," dukes and counts dispensed with those retainers who'd been charged with finding poets of taste.

The gloomy writers published broadsides about the end of poetry. Others claimed that "micropatronage" might be the future, with each reader of a poem paying a single shilling, rather than one earl funding the whole business. The alehouses filled with tense arguments and dire predictions.

The Cambridge wags, who'd only been in it for the grog and the whores, went back to their fathers' estates. The country poets found temp work as blacksmiths' assistants. Folio publishers turned to printing crude pornographic etchings to stay afloat. But one thing was clear: the Golden Age of Poetry had come to an end.

Meanwhile, in the back office of a little theater, a young man named William shut himself up and wrote the greatest plays the world has ever seen.

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