Monday, December 15, 2008

Going forward or looking back?

As the publishing industry squirms in the pressure cooker created by an ever weakening economy, blogs and other media outlets are scrambling with how to portray this unique world of editors and publishers.

I was less impressed with Ethan Hill's article on Barney Rosset than I wanted to be, in Newsweek. Actually, I should say that if I came across the article in Newsweek, I would have just been impressed that they were devoting so much space to someone in publishing, but coming across it as a link posted by The Casual Optimist, I was less impressed. For those who don't know and don't have the time to click through, Rosset purchased Grove Press for $3,000 in the early 1950s, when it was nothing to speak of and he wasn't much either, and turned it into the leading home for avant-garde and popular literature, fighting seemingless endless obscenity laws with writing from Bertolt Brecht, William S. Burroughs, Samuel Beckett, and many other white guys (sorry!). I appreciate the article's objectivity - Rosset's no hero in some ways, but he's fascinating and important - but even with the article's length, it still seems to be skimming on the top of this topic, not delving into it in an intriguing or particularly useful way. It's worth a read as this kind of history in publishing is often quite fascinating, but it may leave that bad taste in your mouth that said history often does - rich white guys being rich white guys, isn't this one rich white guy great because he "took such a chance."

And then looking forward, we have all these open forums for discussing what will become of modern book publishing. The Penguin blog (yes, that Penguin) is looking forward by "inviting authors, typographers, cover designers, printers, technologists, retailers, literary agents, publishers and geeks to come along and consider if and how technology can transform and perhaps improve on The Book." Don't know how much "buy-in" will happen there. I mean, they have a vested interested in hosting such a discussion that makes the use of their blog or somewhere else on their website a less-than-desirable venue for a frank discussion. And in a truly mainstream but strikingly pedestrian manner, over at the Huffington Post, Hugh McGuire asks about "hybrid readers" - those of us who like printed books but are open to e-books and other digital creations. I don't think the name works, quite frankly, and I am shocked by how basic this article is given McGuire's other work (namely, LibriVox AND the Book Oven Blog). I blame the Huffington Post, which is publishing too fast and loose, having contributors churn out light content written up on the fly.

So the best plan is to look back as we go forward, but where to look and then where to go?

1 comment:

Hugh McGuire said...

eesh, that's a little unfair i think. some context:

-thedigitalist wrote a post in which it was suggested that people like ebooks but only as a supplement to paper books

-i wrote a quick response, quoting digitalist, on bookoven blog, wondering whether that preference will shared by people who grow up with ebooks all around.

-the bookoven blog post got lots of comments, see:

-i thought, oh, hell, if there was discussion on bookoven, i might as well throw it up on huffpo, maybe there will be some interest there (there wasn't).

also, for the record, huffpo has no editorial input. you get asked to blog for them, and then you just post whatever you like whenever you like. i think posts go thru a moderation process, but there isn't a whit of editorial input (not even copyediting!). so huffpo bears no blame for anything pedestrian i might have said, other than giving me a(nother) place to say it.