Monday, March 01, 2010

Obligatory post

I feel we need to link to Motoko Rich's article this weekend from the NY Times where our brave reporter tries to answer the question, "Just how much does it actually cost to produce a printed book versus a digital one?" Hmm....

It's a fine article and makes some useful points, but this quote jumped out at me:

“If you want bookstores to stay alive, then you want to slow down this movement to e-books,” said Mike Shatzkin, chief executive of the Idea Logical Company, a consultant to publishers. “The simplest way to slow down e-books is not to make them too cheap.”

And it was followed, at the end of the article, with this quote from bestselling author Anne Rice:

“For all I know, a million books at $9.99 might be great for an author,” Ms. Rice said. “The only thing I think is a mistake is people trying to hold back e-books or Kindle and trying to head off this revolution by building a dam. It’s not going to work.”

Put these together and yes, I'm going to get irritated. Blame it on the day of the week and the weather - rainy Mondays don't help open one's mind, admittedly. But Anne, really?

I get frustrated by being portrayed as someone just resisting technology and ignoring the direction of progress. I'm not trying to "build a dam." But yes, I do care about independent bookstores, as I think they often support new and interesting and creative writing that is not necessarily supported at bigger chains. Booksellers are another voice that can guide readers, not in their free time by blogging but as part of their professional life, as something they get paid to do (and rightly so). I also support fostering an industry that allows more voices to be supported, financially, not just available, online. The idea of ditching print for digital, as it stands, means more people will have the means to get their writing out there, without making money. At least what we have now lets more people - editors (ahem), jacket designers, booksellers - participate in this industry, to make something of a living doing it. That seems to me to be good for readers and writers, as well.

And before people get upset about all of us hangers-on cashing our fat checks, take note of this point:

“You’re less apt to take a chance on an important first novel if you don’t have the profit margin on the volume of the big books,” said Lindy Hess, director of the Columbia Publishing Course, a program that trains young aspirants for jobs in the publishing industry. “The truth about this business is that, with rare exceptions, nobody makes a great deal of money.”

Too true. (Though admittedly, Hess fails to point out that this course has become the standard gateway for many publishing professionals. At a current cost of $4,400 for tuition for the 6 week course - which does not include the $2,590 they quote for room & board - this is simply off limits to most young people, regardless of how much they could contribute to the industry as editors, marketing folks, etc....) Most of us are not getting rich in this process, but we are making a living and, I hope, shaping the book world in an exciting and useful way.

Rich's article is helpful, but clearly this will not be the final word on this issue. Let's just hope it opens up conversations on how digital books can maintain an industry that supports workers on all levels, including - actually, especially independent voices that provide larger perspectives to support groups of great new writers and thinkers.

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