Content or Convenience: Which Do We Value More?

            From the day I learned to read, I wanted to be an author. I wrote an embarrassing amount of stories when I was younger, but many of them were merely first chapters with which I was never satisfied. I would grow bored of the plot and switch to a completely different storyline. When I hit third grade, I decided maybe illustrating was the route to go. Drawing seemed a little easier than writing at the time—likely because I didn’t have the patience to write a novel as an eight-year-old—but I still wanted to be involved in the realization of a story. Eventually my aspirations turned to publishing. I figured I could still be surrounded by books and enjoy reading them, but I wouldn’t have to suffer the pressure of writing one myself. My younger self thought this plan was foolproof; I would be living the dream: reading whatever I wanted and getting paid for it.

            Although I had an affinity for mysteries and complex, determined characters, I found myself reaching for books with intriguing covers (exactly what literary professionals tell you not to do) or by popular authors I heard about from friends. For a while, I stopped seeking out stories because it was more convenient to already have a title in mind when I popped into Barnes & Noble. It wasn’t until later that I realized I was just another victim of efficient marketing strategies. I’d fallen for them unwittingly, and I wasn’t too pleased.

            Even today I’m almost offended by the popular books. A plentiful chunk of these are written by ghostwriters for celebrities—namely YouTubers. While I’m sure the majority of ghostwriters do a fantastic job with what they’re given, it’s a deceptive concept. Regardless of who writes these books, the content is often not worthy of the promotion it receives; it becomes less about the story and more about the person whose name graces the cover. The same goes for novels that become films. A dramatic cover with well-known actors and actresses draws in a specific fan base. It also suggests that books adapted for the screen have more compelling, accessible plots. The spotlight continues to be set on stories that are popular and easy to find.

            Accordingly, it seems that accessibility has become more important than ever with the onset of new technology and social media. Now that publishing has advanced, it’s more and more common to see authors self-publishing. Websites such as Wattpad offer authors the opportunity to publish stories online—even publishing chapters one at a time for the public to read as the author is in the midst of the writing process. Wattpad, which can also be accessed by an app, is constantly expanding in audience because it’s free, and it’s easier to read online than it is to go to the local library or bookstore. Just as news has been shortened and simplified for media users, literature unfortunately seems to be utilizing similar techniques. I have the terrifying notion that before long content will become less important than convenience.

            As someone who has admired the efforts of independent publishing houses/companies to promote authentic work, it’s difficult for me to watch easily accessible stories take control of the world’s attention. This is especially true in the wake of recent events and with current global issues at the forefront of our minds. Stories with meaningful messages need to be shared. The provision of lackluster novels and memoirs draws attention away from stories of genuine importance—ones that make us think.

            The weight, nevertheless, doesn’t rest solely on fiction or biography. Non-fiction works can raise awareness to issues, such as the rapid rate of climate change and declination of natural resources. Recently I read a book called Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geo-Politics of Food Scarcity by Lester R. Brown. The statistics and studies shocked me in a completely necessary way, and the devastating part is that this book was published in 2012, meaning the statistics have likely grown worse. The content was upsetting, but I believe those moments—the moments when you’re horrified at some truth you learn in a book—are critical in life. Books such as this inspire action; they make people want to change their lives in order to better the world around them.

            If we belong to a society that wants to have all the information, why do we spend time validating works that don’t hold intellectual integrity? We want to be moved and inspired, yet we read stories, poetry, and news only insofar as it’s convenient. Time and money take priority over quality content; when life moves in fast-forward, we are less motivated to open ourselves to something that requires deep, often difficult reflection. There’s no quick fix to the effects of consumerism, yet we can recognize that publishing companies and websites cater to our interests.

            If we change our interests, they will have to produce the kinds of stories we want to see. If we choose to read stories that will truly have an impact on our lives, we’ll forge a new path toward a more aware, pensive, and understanding planet every time we walk into a bookstore.

--Sidney Griffith, '17