Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Two Sides to Every Story

In the flurry of headlines detailing how five hundred British libraries are in danger of closing despite public complaint and how Australia predicts that bookstores shall be a thing of the past in five years, one wonders what the future of books will look like- will it be a back-lit screen or a printed page?

First, the good news
The marketplace, for the first time, has the most prominent voice in determining what will float or sink when it comes to books published in electronic format.  Economic downturn has spurned a spike in electronic publishing to minimize costs.  In less than two years, fiction sales as e-books have gone up nearly ten percent.  In the third quarter of 2010, wholesale e-book sales had reached just shy of $120 million.  These market shifts trickle down the branches to affect not only the way publishers do business, but also how editors, agents and writers do theirs.  With the entry of conglomerates buying up some of the most prominent book publishing houses as only a small percentage of their bottom line, editors felt the compression with a need to make more commercially viable decisions, narrowing the flow of approved publishing endeavors.  Agents started to be turned to in order to fill in the figurative spaces and pre-screen author projects to an extent that they hadn't approached before, meeting editors' new standards and acting as figurative gatekeepers to traditional publishing.  The writers, in response, had new roles to fulfill; suddenly they had to become well-versed in marketing, become their own publicist and learn how to sell themselves and their work from the query letter all the way down the finish line to post-publication.  Post-publication marketing had been a large factor originally associated with self-publishing yet it has taken on substantial significance in traditional publishing as well.  Electronic publishing has opened doors to accommodate these shifts.  Best-selling e-book author H.P. Mallory who has bridged the gap between self and traditional publishing by signing a contract with Random House, said of the current industry climate in a recent interview with The Write Place At the Write Time, “Now is the most exciting time for writers- the markets, the readers, as opposed to only the editors and publishers, get to decide what is a success.”
Now, the what-could-be not so good news
In the UK, amidst public outcry, hundreds of libraries are being targeted for extinction.  Is it an omen that today, Borders has finally chosen liquidation?  Will the prophecy by Australian government minister Nick Sherry come true that in five or so years bookstores will be a thing of the past, leaving only specialty shops in large cities?  Amazon, who has led the race in competitive publishing announced that it intends to start its own publishing house.  Meanwhile, agents, joining self-published authors, are starting to cross boundaries by acting as publishers and booksellers.  Even J.K. Rowling, a veritable superstar of traditional publishing, made richer than the Queen, is now turning out a series of e-book versions of her books direct to the consumers through a ground-breaking website launching in October where fans can “walk through” a book and encounter new information about events, characters and places as though they were attending Hogwarts.  The question is what this will mean for the other author Titans of the industry.
Should the overwhelming proof be in the pudding on the side of e-books, what happens to the historic volumes, the brick and mortar stores, the library atmosphere?  The old texts can be digitized, yes, but the consumers are at risk of losing their literal ‘hold’ on the publishing industry if physical books are not preserved.  Searches on statistics will tell you what percentage of a given population agrees or disagrees and it is the hot topic of the headlines.  For those of us who yearn to hold a book, handed down through the ages, touch the yellowing pages and take in the pleasant scent of decades or in some cases centuries, read personal inscriptions and stand in awe of greatness in the world’s stained glass-lined libraries, there is a call for our voice to be heard.  Nearly sixty percent of votes through stats in association with a Huffington Post article by Shane Snow, report the preference of traditional books.  Nearly forty are complacent with e-books; that said, however, other reports confirm that the percentage that would be amenable to e-books would either not replace books completely or those who would were in a very low percentage coming from a group that owned and used e-readers prior to this digital publishing boom. 
The consensus? 
Why not have the best of both worlds…  Everything in moderation, as they say.        

1 comment:

  1. I would never give up traditional books. There's something intimate about being able to hold a book and turn the pages as your read. I also love the art that is the book cover. I think this gets lost when a book is in a e-format. Depending on life demands, living space, I may eventually buy a Nook, but that's a long way off.