The Future of Books Is as Bright as a Computer Monitor
Posted by: Keir Graff
(My digital to-read stack may not be cluttering my physical desktop, but it sure feels heavy all the same . . . )
Ready to think about the future of books? These days, I can hardly stand to do anything else. Join me!
In January, in Time (“Books Gone Wild: The Digital Age Reshapes Literature“) Lev Grossman wrote that publishing is ”about to renew itself again, into something cheaper, wilder, trashier, more democratic and more deliriously fertile than ever.” In other words, the future of publishing is self-publishing.
In the New York Times (“Self-Publishers Flourish as Writers Pay the Tab“), Motoko Rich says something I’ve been saying for awhile (“The point may soon come when there are more people who want to write books than there are people who want to read them”). She also reports that there is one part of the publishing business that’s doing pretty well: self-publishing.
(For those who keep track of this sort of thing, Time beat the New York Times by about a week with this scoop.)
Part of the reason for publishing’s change is the increasing ease with which books can be produced and delivered. Instead of printing one thousand copies, you can print one. Heck, you don’t even have to print one on paper (“E-book revolution favors the agile,” by Matthew Shaer, Christian Science Monitor; “Google and Amazon to Put More Books on Cellphones,” by Miguel Helft, New York Times) . . .
For those who prefer not to read or listen, a book can also be delivered as a video (“Watched Any Good Books Lately?” by David Kaplan, paidContent.org). Frankly, I found the film version of The Big Sleep just as confusing as the book–how wonderful if we could have had film of Raymond Chandler sitting in a chair, outlining the plot.
Unsurprisingly, with all these e-formats, the Web is becoming the hot place to sell books (“See the Web Site, Buy the Book,” by J. Courtney Sullivan, New York Times Sunday Book Review).
Robert Darnton, writing in The New York Review of Books (“Google & the Future of Books“), reminds us that digitization has a dark side. (In worrying about a Google-opoly, he’s referring to older books, but today’s new release is tomorrow’s still-in-copyright, out-of-print library book.)
In N1BR (“Reality Publishing“), Darryl Lorenzo Wellington sends a dispatch seemingly from another era, given the groundswell of enthusiasm for the “deliriously fertile” future. Writing about his experience as a judge for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (this year’s contest currently underway–get your manuscript formatted now), he is not enthused about the “more democratic” nature of publishing touted by Grossman. Instead, he writes that “fiction is ruled by fancy New York publishing houses”–and he calls self-publishers bottom feeders, too. It’s an interesting enough essay, though the tone is a bit, um, rarified. He’s shocked–shocked–that publishing would turn to a reality show-like contest to generate a little hype. Darryl, those fancy New York publishing houses are owned by corporations with shareholders, just like TV networks.
My biggest concern in all of this deliriously democratic stuff is capably voiced by Dennis Drabelle (“The Art of Editing,” Short Stack). Of course Book World has suffered its own severe editing of late.