Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Future of Publishing

I read a blog post by Mark Tavani, Senior Editor at Random House today, and I was interested in his take on the current state of the industry, and also on the comments offered by other blog readers who got there before me.

Tavani suggests that the current shake-up has been caused by the build-up of past events, not necessarily by the current state of the economy. I agree with him completely, but then I don't even think the current economic was caused during the past 8 years alone. Events this big don't happen overnight, or even over the course of a decade. It takes a lot of screwing up over a very long period of time to create a mess this big, and we're being very short-sighted to try laying the blame for it at the door of any one administration.

I'm not saying the previous administration made it any better, I'm just saying they don't hold exclusive rights to the blame. But I digress ... Publishing.

Tavani also suggests that the current state of publishing might actually, eventually, in the long-run, produce positive results. I agree with this, too. Our society hasn't yet learned the art of hitting a happy medium and staying there. That's okay. Other societies have been exactly the same way, so it's just human nature. Society functions with huge pendulum swings, from one extreme to the other, passing through that happy, workable medium area for about five minutes once every century or so. Industry functions the way society does. We continually say, "if a little bit is good, a lot will be even better," and off we race to produce millions of the thing that was good, or new, or fresh, or innovative, or unique because God forbid we should allow anything to remain good, new, fresh, innovative and unique. If somebody is making money off it, we all have to chase after a piece of the pie -- present company excluded, of course. I would never suggest that anyone with the good sense to read my blog would be so crass.

So what do you think? Will the publishing industry survive today's economy combined with choices made years ago? Will books as we know them today cease to exist and be replaced by something else? I don't know about that one. I hope books as we know them never disappear. I love the feel of a book in my hands. It pleases me in a way no computer screen ever has.

I love the sound of pages turning, and I don't believe anyone could produce a satisfying electronic sound to take its place. I love bookmarks with beautiful pictures or thought-provoking quotes on them. Electronic bookmarks don't even come close. I love the smell of a book. I don't know about yours, but my computer does not have a pleasant smell. For as long as I've had a career as an author -- more than 15 years now -- people have been predicting the demise of the paper and leather book and the rise of the electronic one. I have yet to see anything that leads me to believe in either extreme.

Sure, electronic book sales are on the rise, but we're heading into our second decade of the soon-to-hit electronic book tsunami prediction, with little more than a few waves lapping on the shore. Some of my own books are produced in electronic format these days, and I think it's great. Frankly, I don't care what medium a person chooses for the stories s/he reads, as long as s/he's reading. I'd like to see us stop quibbling about the unimportant things that will have relatively little important impact on society and start focusing on the things that will actually make a difference -- like teaching our kids to love stories in whatever format they find most pleasant. Educated kids with broad vocabularies and vivid imaginations are our best hope for a bright future.

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