A colleague sent me a link to an essay on the fate of book publishing that appeared last week in The Washington Post. Its author, Andre Bernard, was formerly an editor and publisher at Harcourt, a major house that’s suffering through significant problems. It’s not surprising then that he views the downturn at his old house and other venerable publishers as perhaps signaling the end of book publishing:
“… I can’t help thinking that as this year gasps its way to its merciful end, something terribly sad is happening, that a vague, general shift in the cultural landscape will alter how or what we read in some still indefinable way; that a quirky, creaky, financially insupportable business that in spite of itself produces that most desirable and perfect of objects — the book — is perishing, and that we are yet to fully feel the loss.”
Here’s the thing. Books aren’t going away. Yes, book publishers are in serious trouble. Bookstores are closing. But the book lives on. The books we read will indeed change but they always do. Books have changed in response to markets and technology since the first authors scribbled on papyrus.
We can predict some changes because they’re already happening. Major publishing companies are focusing even more on big “sure-thing” books. But other books are getting published as well, some by the authors, themselves. And some are doing quite well in their niches. Local independent booksellers are disappearing. But books are spreading to shelf space in general retail establishments.
Books are being sold via websites. They’re being touted in clever videos on YouTube and in blogs and promoted directly to online book groups.
Just as we’ve seen the web open up opportunities for writers of shorter forms of news and commentary, we will inevitably see electronic formats open up more opportunities for writers of long-form fiction and non-fiction. With costs such as printing, shipping and returns no longer an issue, publishing will be economically feasible for just about anyone who is willing to invest time, money and energy into promotion.
So, take heart. The book will not perish. It will change. As all things change. Be prepared to adapt so you can take advantage of the opportunities that the changes present.
Happy New Year to all.