Sunday, December 21, 2008

Why We Aren't Doomed

(Disclaimer: most of these links came via Editorial Ass or The Swivet. Just givin' props here.)

There's been lots of doom-n-gloom in the publishing world lately. Lay-offs (Merry Christmas!), less books being published, random panic attacks at what might happen with scary technology and e-books...

But no worries. For serious, people, we live in an intellectual society whose history and thriving future depend upon the written word. Books are not going away. If anything, the advent of Harry Potter and sparklevires from Twilight shows an increase in popular fiction and an increase in young readers--and the more young readers reading, the better chances we have of getting paid for our scratches on paper.

Here's my (entirely un-authoritative) take on it all:
  • Doom: E-books will take over the world and destroy publishing! Reality: Good. It's about damn time.
    • Kindle looks awesome. I want one. I want a second generation one, and I want to carry it around with me and open it up randomly and hope people comment on it so that I can snobbily say, "Oh, this? This is an e-reader. There are books in here. I carry my library with me like a snail carries his home. Why, yes, I am that intellectual."
    • Here's the thing: we are moving into a technological era. This is a good thing. It is good that books and the publishing world is keeping up with. And, unlike the music industry that totally screwed up file sharing, we're at the ground level with ebooks and are developing e-readers (such as Kindle) that are efficiently designed for our needs and developing the methods in which books are shared electronically. In other words, books aren't getting blindsided like the music industry was with the introduction of mp3 players. We're at the ground level and in a unique opportunity to make e-books popular and viable new outlets for writing.
    • E-books are another form of publishing. More e-books = more of your written work out there = wider exposure = wider audience = more people read your books = you sell more books.
    • Possible doom of the future: DRM and unfair prices on e-books (both of which will develop literary piracy).
  • Doom: The publishing houses are closing/laying off/losing business/will DIE! Reality: Good. It's about damn time.
    • Here's the thing. The way publishing works now doesn't work. The fact that a bookseller can return an author's book with no repercussions at all means that they can order as many books as they want, then get their money back on what doesn't sell, then throw away the left-overs. Which is a waste of money for the publishers in both production and shipping. And when the publisher makes less money, the author makes less money. It's a never-ending cycle of wasted resources, or, as Richard Curtis put it: "...the consignment system of selling books is bleeding the publishing industry to death. Try as they might, the smartest people in our field have failed to find a way to make money under an arrangement that makes books returnable to publishers."
    • Editorial Ass has blogged many times about this topic, and it makes sense. As long as the book stores, publishers and authors are ultimately working against each other, each looking out only for their own profit, we will continue to have crashes like the one we had in October. But because of these continuing crashes, the publishing industry will change--for the better, in ways that are more profitable for all involved. In fact...
    •'s already begun. HarperStudio will sell books to Borders on a non-returnable basis. This means that the HS books that Borders buys, the store cannot return to the publisher. Which means that the store won't buy more stock than it can sell just because it can. Which means that stock won't be returned to HS when it isn't sold, which means less shipping costs and less waste in destroying the unsold books. Which does mean that Borders may end up with some unsold books...which will then be sold at a clearance price--and while that means the book is cheaper and profits the bookstore less, it also means the book is sold and might develop a larger audience and fan base (and more future customers). Everyone wins
So what are we all worried about? Publishing isn't sinking--but it is changing. And the changes are for the better. Like any change, it can hurt. Especially for those in the publishing industry who have lost their jobs, those new writers (like me) who might not get as fair a chance from hesitant agents/editors, and those newly acquired writers who might get lost in the shuffle. But change must happen...and will lead to an even stronger, more thriving publishing industry for the future.

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