Monday, June 04, 2007

Book Expo

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Book Expo, which occurred last week and weekend. The New York Times article by Motoko Rich is particularly relevant, as Rich explains that "the battering ram of technology was back" at the Expo, following John Updike's screed last year regarding electronic texts.

Rich also mentions that Chris Anderson, editor of Wired and author of The Long Tail, plans to give his next book away free online, as long as people don't mind navigated past advertisements. This is so friggin' gross. I know magazines do it, and I know I sound elitist, but is this our future?! Can we expect the next generation to download James Baldwin books for free, gleefully, and then read through Go Tell It on the Mountain with ads pushing skincare products and cigarettes mixed in? Gross.

And on another issue, to excerpt at length:

In a pavilion outside the main exhibit hall Jason Epstein, the former editorial director of Random House and the creator of the Anchor Books paperback imprint, and Dane Neller, founders of, demonstrated their Espresso Book Machine, which can print a small paperback book on site in less than five minutes. “This could replace the entire supply chain that has been in existence since Gutenberg,” Mr. Epstein said.

Chris Morrow, whose parents founded Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center, Vt., three decades ago, said he would be installing one of the machines. He said he planned to print local histories and Northshire-brand titles from the public domain, like “Middlemarch” or “Moby-Dick.”

“There are lots of challenges in bricks-and-mortar book selling, and I see this as a way of expanding our business,” Mr. Morrow said.

This seems incredibly wasteful to me. Morrow's point is well-made, that he can use it for local titles that are hard to keep in print, is appreciated - possibly because I've been to Northshire Bookstore and it's a great indie store. But the idea of just pumping out classics like Moby-Dick for people seems like it will create a lot of paper stacks for readers who may not lift more than 10 pages. I know, I know, one could say printed books are wasteful, but at least there's some art to them, no?

Ultimately, I think my problem with all this is the lack of community, and I know that's idealistic and naive of me, and I'm also aware that this is the same cry heard by the Future of the Book folks who want to create venues out of books. But I mean something a bit more hardcopy, if you will. Bragging that you're going to publish your book online for free with ads - that's just cold, hard capitalism. It's me the author giving it to you the reader - wink wink, we don't need these guys (ie publishers, booksellers), they're just driving up the price - with the nasty corporate hand as ads all through the text, mixed in as if it's okay because the reader can just flip the page. We need to see that such a system is not FREE! You as a consumer are paying when you have to look at ads.

And I don't know what to say about this Espresso Book Machine, which admittedly I would like to see in action. In some ways, it's similar to Caravan, which is more about downloading text (and audio) onto handheld devices. Caravan is just launching now at, I believe, select Borders and some indie stores. Public domain books are an important part of publishing, and as an editor I have looked to see if there are such books that I could bring out in a new edition, to make the house some money. That's damn near impossible at this point in time due to the many publishers with the same idea (and more money) and places like B&N doing their own editions, which I still maintain should be illegal, as a kind of monopoly. Look at the placement those stands get in the stores! Anyhow, this Espresso machine will add to the impractical nature of publishing public domain books, and to me that's a bit sad as publishers can do nice things with classics that this photocopier will not be able to do. Again, the sense of community, with publishers and new introducers and booksellers, is gone as the public domain product becomes a stack of paper to artlessly create.

There is community in knowing you have bought a book that others have, in that edition. We recognize the cover when others are reading it, or note that some editions are different. We like this edition of Ulysses over that one, we find that classic look of Cather in the Rye charming, we get annoyed when they slap a movie cover on a great book to promote the new film version starring Ewan MacGregor (it's always him, isn't it?).

But yeah, maybe I'm being too idealistic and naive. Maybe we should all go print on demand.

1 comment:

weide007 said...

Interesting that you mention Caravan...that's a program we're adding a couple of our trade Fall 07 titles to...I'm curious how it will work out.`