It sounds like a deceptively simple doomsday scenario, but I'm not necessarily buying it in detail. When I first began writing, over 20 years ago, exactly the same situation obtained. There were many more writers around than forums in which they could get their work published, especially if they wanted to make a living wage. I started off in the fringe press, mostly filing for student magazines and street papers. There were a lot of hungry would-be writers knocking at their door, desperate to file long, involved stories, sometimes running to two or three thousand words, all for a paycheck significantly south of $20. Most of them never got a look in. Why? Because they were shit. Their copy stank, they were frequently mad, and they couldn't even get their crappy stories in on time.
At the same time as I was filing my early copy I noticed that photographers and illustrators who were doing the companion artwork were getting paid way more than me. About ten times more. $150 apiece, as opposed to my fifteen bucks. Why? I remember asking an editor. My copy was as good as their artwork. Yes, he said. But my office is full of people pretending to be writers. I can always find words to fill the magazine. With photographs or graphic work, however, you've either got it or you don't and it's obvious at a glance.
He was right.
So I stuck with writing, enduring about 10 years of reasonably abject poverty, and then scored a lucky break with Felafel. After that I started selling my byline rather than my copy.
With a few caveats I think the same principle still holds. There are certain areas of publishing and media where the old business model probably cannot survive. I don't expect to be getting paid elephant bucks by Fairfax, for instance, 10 years from now. Will there even be a Fairfax 10 years from now? I don't know, but they have started to turn a profit on their web businesses, and way before they forecast to. Even so I'm laying plans to diversify. Games writing is one area I'm going to look at. We've already discussed self-publishing plans for e-books based on established intellectual property like Axis of Time. And I've been talking recently with some film guys about doing some thrillers.
I can't tell you, Murph, if you're going to make any money out of writing, or even where you might start looking for it. Although if I was you I might invest a couple of semesters in a game writing course. And I certainly wouldn't be wasting my time on short stories. But we've already had that discussion.
The way I see books going over the next couple of decades is a shakeout into two types of publishing. Electronic for disposable entertainment. The sort of book you'll read and throw away. And hardcopy for more significant titles, including the perennial big sellers of cookbooks. You might think they would lend themselves to e-book format but some early experiments with them seem to indicate not.
At the end of it all I suppose I should remind myself and anybody looking to break into the field that I didn't start writing for the money. There was no money. Not for 10 years. And even then I hadn't expected to start coining it, ever. I got into writing because I wanted to have adventures and I figured that telling stories about them was one way of getting somebody else to cover some of my costs. If you go into writing expecting to make a lot of money you're almost certainly bound to be disappointed. But, if you go in wanting to tell great stories, if that is what drives you to set your arse down every day at the keyboard and write, no matter what, you might might find after a while that there is a buck to be made. You just have to be better than 99% of the people Orin was referring to.