Margaret Atwood Compares Authors To Dead Moose

Pointing to death as an example of how change is not always good, at The O’Reilly “Tools of Change” conference today, Margaret Atwood discussed the complexities of the evolving digital publishing world today. “It doesn’t have to be a book,” she said. “There have been a lot of publishing tools. Yelling is one of them.”

Atwood is not against technology, she just pointed out that every technology is a tool and every tool has three sides –a sharp side, a dull side and a stupid side. “You can use a hammer to build a house for a homeless person or you can use it to kill your neighbor. The stupid side would be hitting your finger with the hammer.”

Pointing out books’ drawbacks, Atwood said that they are heavy, get wet in the bathtub and they make good kindling. eBooks on the other hand risk their demise at the hands of a big solar flare. Also, she said that if the technology changes, you are stuck with it. Think floppy discs. “One good thing about paper is when the lights go out, you can still read a paper book with a candle.”

It seems clear from her talk that Atwood acknowledges the benefits of print and digital books, her concern, the author getting enough money to eat cheese sandwiches. Comparing a dead author to a dead moose, which feeds an ecosystem of more than three dozen animals, Atwood warns, “Never eliminate your primary source.”

Atwood is not worried about the proliferation of the word as digital self-publishing grows. “The quality of literary output has always been questionable,” she said. “As soon as people in large numbers became literate and able to read, all of the things that parents have deplored have appeared.”

Atwood herself owns two eReaders and reads eBooks on planes and sometimes in hotel rooms when the alternative is watching TV.

Atwood closed the talk by pointing out the complicated nature of eBook adoption. “eBooks are increasing reading, but they are not increasing how much money authors are making per sale,” she said.