Tuesday, January 27, 2009

How Book Publishing Has Changed

"None of this is good or bad; it just is." That's how Time Magazine wraps up its review of the book publishing industry in 2009. Coming a few days after an author-with-thirty-books-under-his-belt told me that the publishing industry is in deep doodie for exactly the same reasons this article cites, I'm paying attention.

The piece by Lev Grossman focuses on authors who published their own books and ended up on the bestseller lists. Why? Because the big publishers are working from a business plan so outdated that it's become dysfunctional. Grossman calls it a financial coelacanth, which I had to look up. (It's pronounced SEE-le-kanth, and it refers to an extinct species of fish.)

Since nothing but the biggest sellers are returning profits, no agent or publisher wants to take a risk on an unknown. I like this part: "In theory, publishers are gatekeepers: they filter literature so that only the best writing gets into print. But Genova and Bary and Suarez [Lisa Genova, who wrote Still Alice, Brunonia Barry of The Lace Reader and Daniel Suarez, author of Daemon--all self-published originally and now best-sellers] got filtered out initially, which suggests . . . not only a technological revolution but also a quiet cultural one--an audience rising up to claim its right to act as a tastemaker."

The article points out innovations that are cropping up: Paperless books, like the Kindle, cell-phone novels, fan fiction, episodic blogs. Some of it scares me; some makes me hopeful. I do not know where all of this leaves the writer who is trying to make a living, but it's clear (duh) that the industry is in flux and no one really knows what will work once the dust settles.


Lorelei said...

Hi Vicki,
I am very concerned about all this. Even Susan the librarian is reading on Kindle, is this good? I love the feel and look of a book. Coelacanth reader? Probably. And writers, so many hopeful writers, just ride on into the storm. I'm one..probably ready to drop off the end of the earth.

Vix said...

Hey Lady!
While I love books, I think I could get used to some of the new readers (I mentioned them in a 2/17 post) but they've got to charge less for downloads. $7 to $20 for a book that doesn't have to be printed seems ridiculous.