Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Depressing

Maybe it's not depressing as much as maddening, annoying, frustrating, etc...

It's this irritating blog entry on the perennial "print is dead" argument. The post is jumping of Print is Dead the book, much of which is or is going to be posted online here. I'm not taking issue with that project, per se, but this entry by David Rothman, posted on the Publishers Weekly website. It's full of interruptions and asides and bad jokes - which is a general problem, I find, with e-writing, if you will. I'm probably even guilty of this error, if my contention that it is somewhat inherent to online writing has any merit.

My larger problem, with this post and the concepts endorsed therein, is still the same: I worry for the quality of the writing being published electronically. As I've said, I don't spend a ton of time on these posts, for example, as it's so easy to publish them. I spoke to someone interested in posting his manuscript online as I work to publish it in print - something that does not entirely worry me - but he complained about the "snail's pace" of print publishing. But there's value in fixing errors before text goes public. There's also value in presenting it in the best way possible. We can put things out electronically in various ways but that should not lessen the quality of the writing and the presentation of the text. Spoken like a true editor, I suppose.

I also worry about the opportunities for corporate involvement - also seen in this creepy post. Rothman says:
So how can publishers still turn a profit off e-books and related technologies such as print on demand? Jeff's book is more diagnostic than prescriptive. However, I actually see an upside in his accurate observation that few Americans are serious readers or heavy book buyers; that's all the more opportunity for our industry to grow. As an example of gaps begging to be filled, check out my thoughts on Wal-Mart's disgraceful book-DVD ratio and the dearth of bookstores in small-town
America. I offer some specifics on how the chain could merchandise p-books better, to the advantage of shareholders.

Oh good, you're thinking of shareholders! Then we're all set! I have to run off and infect some villagers in a developing country with an experimental "bug" but once I'm done, let's talk more about how to help these shareholders, 'kay!

Yes, folks, he has found a way to make publishing work for... Wal-mart. It's just astounding. But then again, I don't read business books. I get the impression that such thinking in this field is standard, though it is not often discussed quite so graphically and crassly in publishing circles.

I'm sure there is a way to e-publish and p-publish - ?? - and still make a bit of change, but I'd like to see a model where there is enough money going around - and not just to Mac and Sony - to fund the proper production of these texts - editing, copyediting, text design. If an author has no interest in that then fine, let them just hammer out words and get them into consumers' grubby little hands. But is there room for something more polished? Because I think the more polished work is what will more likely stand the test of time.

Is it so wrong to consider preservation in this discussion? It's like email versus letters. Is it worthwhile to take the time and exhibit the patience necessary to type up and mail a real letter when email is so much easier and faster? Would anyone in the future find value in the email exchanges of two great writers, like they do now in great literary figures' letter?

PS - I just have to add, from Publishers Lunch, in today's email, this sad note:

Learning Annex president Bill Zanker paid people to line up outside the BN store on Fifth Avenue and 46th Street yesterday for a signing by Donald Trump of their joint book THINK BIG AND KICK ASS IN BUSINESS AND LIFE. Zanker dispensed $100 each to the first 100 people in line, $50 each to the next 100, and $10 each to the next 1,000 or so people.

Link here. Now *that* is crass, embarassing, and just... hilarious in its absurdity. Pathetic!

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