The End of Authorship

By Reihan Salam

Tim O'Reilly, one of my personal heroes, has a short but very suggestive post on, appropriately enough, how publishers are starting to resemble software developers. As the premium on speed increases, we're likely to see more multi-author collaboration in the world of books, and software developers have learned a great deal about managing multi-author collaboration.

Authorship is already an ambiguous phenomenon, and I'm bracketing the pervasive use of ghostwriters for blockbuster titles. Acknowledgments pages, which tend to read like nightmarishly long Academy Awards acceptance speeches, only hint at the deep partnerships between authors and editors, and between authors and muses, critics, gadflies, GChat friends, and all the rest. This is not always true, to be sure. Some authors really are rocks and islands. But my sense is that the sensibilities of the internet age have moved us all in the direction of collaboration, formal and informal, for the obvious reason that the price of collaboration has sharply decreased. The value of authorship, of course, is that the buck has to stop somewhere.

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