Sunday, July 04, 2010

Problems with Paywalls

There's an interesting article in today's Sunday Times about Tom McCarthy, whose 3rd novel "C" is out in August. I would usually link to it, but of course, the Sunday Times is now behind a paywall. There's plenty I'd like to comment on about the article, but I'd have to laboriously paraphrase the various quotes and arguments, which would not be at all like reading the article. I could, I suppose, sign up to the Paywall (I'm reading the paper copy here) and then copy large chunks into my blog, and we could have a nice little debate about Tom McCarthy and whether or not he really is so different than the "mainstream" writers. We could also, I suppose pass on information about McCarthy word-of-mouth, like happened when his first novel, the admirable "Remainder" was published first by Paris art publishers Metronome press, and then by Alma Books. (I note that he is now with Jonathan Cape, though this isn't explained.) McCarthy's book was massively promoted by a number of blogs and bloggers, and was a definite word of mouth mini-hit. He probably doesn't need the Sunday Times article anyway.

Anyway, what it makes me wonder is this an unexpected consequence of the Paywall - that it might become less important for writers (etc.) to be mentioned in the Times, or by being brought to a paying (therefore "discerning"?) audience whether it will help. Oh, I've bought the Times online, therefore I may as well buy the new Tom McCarthy novel. "Hey, I was in the Times yesterday," you might say, and then rather than link to it from your twitter or blog, you...can do nothing. Perhaps the Times will start letting its old content escape from the Paywall? I'm not sure. I'm not sure I care. Okay, most publicity is good publicity etc. and I'd love you to be able to read and comment on the McCarthy article, the fact that you can't, seems perhaps more important than the monetarising of the Times' website. One of the great joys of the last few years has been to read something in a newspaper on or off-line and then pass the details on to other online readers and use it as a catalyst for debate. Not so relevant to news content, but to premium cultural content it seems vital.

Back to McCarthy - in the piece by Robert Collins, Collins states that "McCarthy is no conventional novelist. His friends are visual artists. He hasn't read anything by McEwan or Mitchell." It's interesting that David Mitchell is now classed in the "mainstream," despite the form and language of his novels being probably far more unconventional than "Remainder". Something I'd want to put up for debate on a blog. I liked "Remainder", didn't read (or read much about, his second novel "Men in Space") and look forward to "C", (in that great tradition of literary books novels one letter titles, "G", and "V"), but wonder whether McCarthy is replacing one form of accepted thinking, the "realist" novel, with another, the familiar tropes of contemporary art, critical theory and late 20th century avant-gardeism. After all, according to Collins the new novel "brims with literary allusions and symbols...based partly on Alexander Bell...and one of Freud's case studies." Not so different one thinks then our history-obsessed mainstream, in other words. How Collins can think that in the hands of David Mitchell the novel has "regressed almost completely to its realist origins" is another point for discussion.

All of this is in line with the context created by David Shields' contentious book "Reality Hunger" and various responses to that. In other words, the contemporary literary debate is no longer in the pages of the LRB or wherever, but spread across media and publications, over a period of time. In it's lowering of the Paywall I'm wondering if the Times is withdrawing entirely from this discussion, a veiled land of which we know little, very like the Japan of David Mitchell's latest novel.

(* by the way, there's no reason I singled out McCarthy from today's Times, except that he's both an interesting novelist and an interesting case study in terms of debating the future of the novel - and it was only when I started thinking I should blog about some of the assertions in the piece that I realised that I could, but that half of the argument would be missing, invisible - which come to think of it, is quite a Tom McCarthy moment.)

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