A learned friend sent me a link to a story in the New York Times about the decline (from a low prominence to an even lower one) of plot in pornography. Unfortunately, that was a few days ago, and the story is now unavailable unless you have a NYT login, so I’ll accomplish much the same thing for you by repurposing Violet Blue’s two-sentence summary:

They discuss the gradual demise of scripted porn movies and the increase of all-action porn. In the article they talk to Steven Hirsch at Vivid, who blames the short attention span of Internet porn consumers.

Now, if I were doing a dead media watch the way Bruce Sterling often does at Beyond The Beyond, I’d have trenchant observations for you about a dead-tree newspaper that can’t even manage to publish its material online at a persistent link that works for everyone, writing about the decline of plot in an industry that never particularly valued plot, while neglecting — in the last couple of years alone — probably several dozen more interesting news developments in that same industry. Is this news, or is it “old man shouts at cloud” stuff?

But instead of making this a dead media watch piece, I want to praise the dancing bear a little bit. Not only has the NYT deigned to notice the porn industry, but they wrote about it in a manner that doesn’t dispute the significant place pornography has in our cultural canon. For the major print media to write anything about porn that doesn’t include a big dose of anti-porn fear-mongering is unusual enough. For them to treat with it as a literary genre — which it surely is — and analyze its literary evolution and shortcomings? That’s downright revolutionary, and certainly to be commended.

That said, the instant I saw it I thought of Bruce Sterling again. About six weeks ago he published the very succinct Eighteen Challenges in Contemporary Literature on his blog. If you are willing to read them with a bit of mental flexibility with regard to media (substituting, for example, “DVD” for “book”) they are germane to, and do a better job of explaining, the changes in porn production, distribution, and marketing that have driven the plot “decline” that the NYT was grappling with. I’d gesture specifically at items 2-4, 7, and 8-14. That’s what, 11 out of 18?

1. Literature is language-based and national; contemporary society is globalizing and polyglot.

2. Vernacular means of everyday communication — cellphones, social networks, streaming video — are moving into areas where printed text cannot follow.

3. Intellectual property systems failing.

4. Means of book promotion, distribution and retail destabilized.

5. Ink-on-paper manufacturing is an outmoded, toxic industry with steeply rising costs.

6. Core demographic for printed media is aging faster than the general population. Failure of print and newspapers is disenfranching young apprentice writers.

7. Media conglomerates have poor business model; economically rationalized “culture industry” is actively hostile to vital aspects of humane culture.

8. Long tail balkanizes audiences, disrupts means of canon-building and fragments literary reputation.

9. Digital public-domain transforms traditional literary heritage into a huge, cost-free, portable, searchable database, radically transforming the reader’s relationship to belle-lettres.

10. Contemporary literature not confronting issues of general urgency; dominant best-sellers are in former niche genres such as fantasies, romances and teen books.

11. Barriers to publication entry have crashed, enabling huge torrent of subliterary and/or nonliterary textual expression.

12. Algorithms and social media replacing work of editors and publishing houses; network socially-generated texts replacing individually-authored texts.

13. “Convergence culture” obliterating former distinctions between media; books becoming one minor aspect of huge tweet/ blog/ comics/ games / soundtrack/ television / cinema / ancillary-merchandise pro-fan franchises.

14. Unstable computer and cellphone interfaces becoming world’s primary means of cultural access. Compositor systems remake media in their own hybrid creole image.

15. Scholars steeped within the disciplines becoming cross-linked jack-of-all-trades virtual intelligentsia.

16. Academic education system suffering severe bubble-inflation.

17. Polarizing civil cold war is harmful to intellectual honesty.

18. The Gothic fate of poor slain Poetry is the specter at this dwindling feast.