03 Jun

Do we need to reinvent pulp? I’m not so sure

In referencing my post about survivorship bias, a long essay about how eBooks could be the new pulp. More comments below.

“So, what’s the big deal about Pulp? Why should Ebooks aspire to that?

Right now E-books are the new Dime Novels. In the late 1800’s, on the back of new publishing technologies and the rise of mass literacy, there was a ‘Publishing Revolution’ (actually several) in the form commonly called Dime Novels. The name came from the first series, Beadle’s Dime Novels, establishing the norms of the format: 100 page paperbacks, roughly 6½’ by 4¼’, lurid adventure tales with breathless titles.”

(Via Ebooks need to re-invent Pulp! | Voices on the Square.)

Yeah, the biggest issue I see with this is a comment referenced but not truly appreciated in that blog post, which is that pulp serials were ‘like the TV’ of their day.

While I think eBooks are going to create a new low-cost market (and have, really), the evidence is more that they’re eating up the cheap paperback of the 70s and thereabouts, than pulp.

Pulp was ‘like the TV’ of the day.

Only, we *have* TV today.

And videogames.

Reading is not a dominant entertainment activity. Which is why any reading today is never going to exactly mirror reading of the past. This is the hiccup with paying too close attention to models of the past. The ecosystem has changed.

That isn’t to say that I think serials or shorter books aren’t a good thing. I’d like to see more of a realization that novellas are a compelling read and John Scalzi just showed us the potential impact of serials.

Addendum, both Bruce and Philip Brewer think I miss the point. Their comments here and here.

In an email to Philip I wrote:

What I think you both miss is that it’s beside the point. It’s next to impossible to get the investment needed to replicate that model because fewer people read as primary entertainment to such a level that a structure can develop around ‘new pulp’ that can replicate any of that.

Most of the ‘new pulp’ and directions we are going are leaner. More freelance, more picking up editor or copy editor as fellow freelancer as needed, more author central.

All the things you’re focusing on are replicated in TV and video game media. Team-centric, highly collaborative, heavily invested in. I don’t see signs of that coming back into print, it’s going the other direction with text.


Are there technological effects that can come out of this? Yeah, I see teams that form around a single book that everyone is passionate about forming. I see more communities forming. There are opportunities. But pulp got its benefits from scale, fewer channels, lack of competition from other media, and we’re in a rapidly nichifying, high media competition environment. I really don’t think looking towards its structure as beneficial, though I do like the form factor of smaller, leaner novels and the return of the novella, which I’m investing in myself.

But Crowdfunding, building your own list serv of passionate fans, using single-project technologies to gather and create art together, then disband, etc etc, which are becoming the needle of our new secondary industry here, these don’t map very well to pulp as far as I can tell.