The Guardian has listed the top 100 people in the new digital landscape of publishing and reading in Britain. Several of those at the top, associated with Amazon, and Google, and Apple, are American, as are a few top authors, including James Patterson, and Dan Brown. Lots of agents and managing directors appear. A few novelists appear - JK Rowling, Ian McEwan, Zadie Smith and Salman Rushdie, for instance, as well as Stephen Fry. We also get a trio of poets, Carol Ann Duffy, Seamus Heaney, and Andrew Motion. Patronisingly, #100 is "You" - the readers, tweeters, and bloggers. It is a sort of depressing list. It shows, to my mind, that whoever compiles these doesn't "get" the real shift that is coming - how radical the shift just may be. I was surprised not to see Chris Hamilton-Emery, or Neil Astley, or Michael Schmidt, for poetry - each had brilliantly marketed it these past few decades using new ideas and retaining editorial intelligence. No actual bloggers were mentioned; or content pirates; or indeed, any organisers of literary or cultural events in the digital underground. No one involved with creative writing in the UK was mentioned - the major new force in generating excellent writers.
Yes, this may be a power list, but it is also a mainstream, obvious list, a tip of the iceberg, that will be of little use to anyone wondering what comes next. In 2003, I predicted much of this, when CNN filmed my (Salt published) e-book coming out, the fastest book at that time, published one week after the contract being signed. For almost a decade I have used the Internet to warn, cajole, and argue for (and sometimes against) the value of social networking and the Internet, to create alternate readerships, and new platforms for writers and readers. Apart from the American geniuses at the top of this list, very few in British publishing have done much, until very recently (for instance The Waste Land e-version) to really capitalise on, what the digital sweep means. The reason - what remains unrecognised is the direct threat to an established hierarchy that the digital world represents - a hierarchy paradoxically bolstered by such quaint lists as these. The true powerful writers are those writing now, perhaps studying creative writing, planning their first book, whose brilliant ideas will feed the games, books, films, and other content of the future, some of it unimaginable; and the most exciting publishers are those even now imagining radical new ways of redefining the way literature is thought of in the UK.