Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Sea change for the Pulitzer Prizes
Gentlemen, start your Kindles.
The Pulitzer Prize board has announced that it will immediately begin accepting entries first published on the Internet for all its journalism awards. This is as it should be, and it is a frank acceptance of the unassailable truths that great reporting is not necessarily presented only in ink on paper, and that the business model of journalism has profoundly changed.
What of the literary Pulitzers? No announcement was made about them, but it is safe to say that in the short run the awards for poetry, fiction, drama, biography and general nonfiction will still go to printed books.
Why? Original e-books -- those that first appear in digital form, are read on electronic devices, and often distributed over the Internet -- are still too young and raw to be taken seriously as literary works. They are not yet chosen and polished by sophisticated editors and marketed by a professional sales force to an audience large enough to take notice and wide enough to include educated critics.
But their day is coming. The book world is suffering the same economic woes as the newspaper industry, and sooner or later it will have to change its business model and embrace digital publishing, much more economical than the printed book for conveying text to the marketplace.
E-books will not replace printed books overnight. For some time the two media will coexist side by side. But as the increasingly elderly audience for print of all kinds shrinks and eventually disappears, the e-book will rule. And it will win Pulitzer Prizes.
I'd stake my fortune on it if I had any fortune left.
(Full disclosure: I was once a finalist for the Pulitzer in criticism, and I was once the chair of the Pulitzer jury for general nonfiction.)