Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I don't know how to fix the publishing industry.

Nobody asked me, of course, but I'm on my way to BookExpo America for the next several days, so I thought I'd just put that out there.

This year's meeting will be considerably smaller than previous years', as some large publishers will have no presence at all on the exhibit floor, and I have heard from some author friends that their publishers have been unwilling even to get them galleys to sign at the convention. Picking up advance copies of forthcoming novels is one of the major benefits of BEA for booksellers; not having as many of those available is a blow.

But it's pretty clear that the structures of the publishing and bookselling industries are outdated and in desperate need of fundamental change, so I'm looking forward to hearing people talk about it. Despite the hype, I don't think the Kindle's going to put publishers out of business, but I do think that everyone's going to have to move to a model closer to a print-on-demand system, which may make hardcovers much scarcer and more expensive.

It's also going to change our whole perspective on what it means to be "published," and I'm not sure that's a good thing. It's always been difficult for novelists, in particular, to support themselves by writing novels; the freakish success of a small percentage of authors (Stephen King, John Grisham, Dan Brown, Mary Higgins Clark) has created the illusion that writing books is a way to get rich. Getting rich from writing a novel is about as likely as winning the lottery; some do, but you can't count on it.

Moving to a print-on-demand model will make it possible for legitimate publishing houses to publish many more authors, if they want to, but it will also make it harder for any but the most successful authors to write their way to a living wage. Think about how overwhelming it already is to stand in front of the "New Releases" table at a major chain bookstore; what would that be like if you were standing in front of a wall of screens, offering you an unlimited number of books available on demand? Nothing will ever really go out of print; new authors will compete with every other book ever written, not just the two dozen released in the same week.

Meanwhile, I see so many authors embracing technologies that I actually consider antithetical and hostile to reading long-form fiction: YouTube, podcasting, and most of all Twitter. What possible correlation could exist between the false intimacy of a 140-character Tweet and the willingness to commit 8-10 hours reading a story the Twitterer wrote? And if Twitter followers are willing to commit that time to just any of their Twitter pals, how are they to distinguish between one Twit's books and another's? Where's that reading time going to come from, anyway, if they're spending all their time Twittering?

All right, enough ranting; I'm already running late, and my views on Twitter are well-known. I think those commercials are hilarious, but brothers and sisters, let's get real: they're not kidding.

By coincidence, Declan Burke is blogging about this very subject today over at Crime Always Pays. Check it out.

Five Random Songs

Ben Folds Five, "Song for the Dumped." A hilarious spouting of rage at the girlfriend who dumped him: "And don't forget to give me back my black t-shirt!"

Elvis Costello & the Attractions, "(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea." I have never understood the parentheses in this title.

Nine Inch Nails, "Ruiner." Ooh, more excellent music for a bad mood -- which, by the way, I am in this morning. Could you tell?

Bruce Springsteen, "Long Walk Home." Aw, man, now I feel sad.

Heather Laws, "Girl, You're a Total Woman Now." From She Can't Believe She Said That: The Rise and Fall of Kathie Lee Gifford nee Epstein, by Matt Prager, who will be appearing in his own one-man show at Dixon Place on Friday night. He's opening for Shelly Mars at 8:00 p.m. Everybody come, and I'll see you there!


Anonymous said...

huh... I follow your blog every week and STILL, I never see a Manu Chao song on your random songs list...


AnswerGirl said...

That is weird, I admit. But I have 6,200 songs in my iTunes, so maybe it's just the luck of the draw!