Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The Shiny New Future of Publishing

Just read a must-read post by Dennis Johnson of Melville House, outlining the very-possible closing-down of Barnes & Noble's physical bookstores. For many of my more radical ebook-loving friends, this is cause for cheering and applause. I do not agree with them. For me and several of my long-time publishing friends, it's the realization of something we've been watching and noting since around 2008/2009, like watching a massive train derail in slow-motion.

While I do not forget big-box stores' ruthless and myopic elimination of independent bookstore competition over the years (good ol' American capitalism, right?), I don't applaud the demise of any bookstore, even the big-box versions. And if you're a fan of anything that's written or drawn in published form, then you should pay attention to what's happening right now, because it's going to affect you, even if you're really happy right now with your Shiny New Future. And in fact, it already is affecting you, even if you don't realize it.

New York Times' David Streitfeld, in a recent report on ebooks: “The triumph of e-books over their physical brethren is not happening quite as fast as forecast.” Streitfeld floated the idea that this may be due to the “counterintuitive possibility … that the 2011 demise of Borders, the second-biggest chain, dealt a surprising blow to the e-book industry. Readers could no longer see what they wanted to go home and order.”

Result, according to Melville House's Johnson? "The closing of bookstores selling PRINT books may also be hurting the sale of EBOOKS."

Ding-ding-ding. Hi, folks -- that's Reality ringing your cultural doorbell.

My take: Culture is an ecosystem. Think balance. Think beyond the length of your own arm. Our current Shiny New Future of Publishing is built for short-term gratification, and long-term 'scorched earth' (borrowing Johnson's phrase). I think we can do better than that. We NEED to do better than that.

I offer this to anyone reading this -- you're not in charge of 'saving Barnes and Noble' or 'saving publishing' or 'saving culture'. That's missing the point. It's the wrong way to frame these events. You ARE in charge of deciding what kind of culture you want, and leaving a world of better choices than the one you were given. In publishing and in reading culture, we're not doing such a hot job lately. Stop choosing convenience over culture, people. You can have both, but when you choose the former exclusively over the latter, you lose. Ebooks are NOT the devil, but ignorance sure is. 


Anonymous stina said...

[claps, cheers, and whistles]

I agree with you so very, very much.

11:05 AM  
Blogger Fred Kiesche said...

While I am a big fan of eBooks (as you know), I wouldn't be happy to see B&N close. I wasn't happy to see Borders close, either!

I wish that B&N would have concentrated on selling BOOKS and executing on that. I think part of their problems comes from over expansion but also selling toys and non-core items.

I started seeing this several years ago (look for a posting on my blog called "The Death of Captain Future"). Maybe they can turn the ship around, get their booksellers to be enthusiastic about what they read and transfer that to the customers. That's one place that eBook sellers (or online sellers) can't go.


11:20 AM  
Blogger Paul Weimer said...

Very well put, John.

I have a trip to make to my Friendly local bookstore this weekend, as it so happens.

3:05 PM  
Anonymous Rothgo said...

I'm still waiting to see an explosion of deluxe binding hardbacks: books who's physicality is something to admire in addition to their content.

Subterrainian, Easton Press, The Folio Society and so on have been plugging away in this market for a while, though sometimes at silly prices (Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising series was hopelessly overpriced for example)and with mixed quality (most are very unadventurous in regard to the binding illustration...! ;) But a simple leather binding does not a desirable item make: better physical design is required.

For pulp fiction: holiday thriller/romances/crime fiction; monthly comics and writing-by-numbers horror/scifi, the ebook fits well.

But for books you want to read again, want to own, want to admire, I think there should be a bigger market than there currently is. The current paperback industry (particularly larger formats) is doomed in that regard I think.

PS: Happy new year John!

4:15 PM  

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