Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Getting In on the Action

I'm often interested to see the opinion of Peter Osnos, founder and editor-at-large for PublicAffairs, executive director of the Caravan Project, and senior fellow at the Century Foundation, where he has posted a number of articles on publishing and journalism. He is a smart man, obviously, and is invested in the idea of books and authors and good writing surviving well into the future.

So this relatively brief article about Osnos by John Mutter from today's Shelf Awareness caught my eye. (Scroll down as needed to find "Conversation with Peter Osnos.") The article focuses on how Osnos envisions the future of books and e-books. He doesn't make any huge declarations but raises points that are very much needed as this conversation moves forward with such rapid speed, propelled too often by base market interests. (Again I'm eyeing YOU, Jeff Bezos!) He puts the optimistic spin on this e-revolution, indicating how much promise it holds for the broken production system currently in place at book publishers: "We publishers print 10 copies of a book to sell six," Osnos said. In a new world, "If we print 10 to sell eight, two of which are digital, that would change the economics of our business." But he also mentions concerns about independent booksellers not getting in on the action:

Osnos envisions a bricks-and-mortar bookstore that will allow customers to buy books any way they want them, whether--once again--it's the traditional book, a
POD version, an e-book or audio. In this kind of bookstore, booksellers won't turn some customers away or tell them to come back to pick up a book later.
I'm all for this, but Osnos' own Caravan Project was supposed to help indie bookstores do this, and it didn't really work out that way:

Ultimately traditional booksellers were not as involved in the Caravan Project as expected. "The availability of the Caravan Project books is significant and being sold but not generally through traditional bricks-and-mortar stores," Osnos said. "A lot more e-books are being sold through newer, digitally based retailers than bricks-and-mortar stores."
Perhaps he blames the booksellers themselves for not signing on and investing in the technology needed to make the Caravan books available. I don't know. But I'm not sure we have yet to see how an indie bookstore can compete with Amazon when Amazon controls the copyright to the Kindle technology. Amazon is forcing indies to sign on to their agenda in order to get in on the deal, and that's a dangerous proposition - not to mention cruel, as these bookstores have lost so much business already to Amazon. (Kudos, btw, to the Harvard Book Store, which put a print of the famous New Yorker cover up right over the new books section!)

For those, like SoTB's own Christopher, who are standing resolutely with their back to this new technology, take some comfort in Citizen Reader's post in praise of books. She declares outright, "I love reading...but I love reading books more."

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