Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Someone Else Says Books Ain't Dead!

In a guest blog post for Powell's, author Rebecca Skloot (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks) is talking up the author tour, based on her own self-organized tour across the country. She references an article she wrote in PW about how her publisher, Crown, and her agent recommended against any author tour, wanting instead to invest resources in online marketing, so she took the matter into her own hands. Clearly she's been pleased with the results of this tour, which has brought her into all kinds of venues, including many independent bookstores.

Every time I walk into a store and see people filling all the chairs and lining the walls and aisles, I want to hop up and down for joy because I'm struck by two exhilarating facts: First, all those people came out to hear an author read when everyone said they wouldn't. And second, in the midst of a steady stream of stories about the death of bookstores (particularly independents), and the death of books in general, every store I've visited has a thriving community of readers devoted to keeping those stores, and the books in them, alive. As a writer who just spent almost eleven years of her life working on one book, going into those communities and hearing how much they care about books is a much needed contrast to the flood of bad news. I'm not delusional enough to believe that this means the future of publishing is all hunky dorey now, but it certainly does make me feel like reports of its demise are premature. As are reports of the book tour's demise: They won't work for every book (more on that another time), but they're certainly not dead.

This is a lovely message (as linked by Shelf Awareness) and one I'm happy to spread.

Long live the book tour, and the book!

Monday, March 29, 2010

E-book pricing

Some of the discussions on e-book pricing can get very tedious and insider-baseball-ish, but even if you're not in the industry, if you love books, it's an issue worth considering. A lot of commentators are economists or production people getting into the weeds - again, important, but not worth everyone's time.

A good overview - albeit with definite opinions - comes from the ubiquitous digital-issues gadfly, Cory Doctorow - he of Craphound and even more notably, BoingBoing, and an author himself. Here's a 40 minute plus video, which I found posted over on Ted Striphas' blog, in which Doctorow speaks about ways in which we can all think thru e-pricing, from a pop culture perspective, author perspective, even publisher perspective.

Cory Doctorow - ebooks from Bloomsbury on Vimeo.

(I should comment on how easy it is to now embed video - incredible. We do it all the time, so who're you calling techno-skeptics?!)

Doctorow is speaking to a crowd at Bloomsbury in the UK, and they don't seem to be down with his jokes, but perhaps they're open to his message. (It's a tough room.) I find him very funny and easy to listen to, with references ranging from sci-fi novels to Gilligan's Island to music industry history to tech issues. He's well versed, comfortable, and clearly curious quite widely. I have a lot of respect for Doctorow, and I also feel I should defer to him on some issues.

But I get frustrated by Doctorow's endless siding with the reader/listener/user. I know he's doing this as an artist/author/producer himself, but I still call foul. Early in this talk, he says readers don't care about how much a book costs to produce - that won't justify a high price for the book, to the reader. This is the same argument used by Walmart - we give it to you cheaper, so like us more. And many of us have decided no, because we know Walmart cuts corners on labor and other issues to get to that price. As I've mentioned here, a big fat biography of a notable figure should cost more due to the labor of the author and the high production quality. Should we be siding with a reader who says I'm not buying that just because I know I could get a cheaper book in the bargain bin at Borders? Is that sustainable?

I also don't love, I should note, his coziness with Bezos et al over at Amazon. Sorry, pal, but there's something to be said about the company you keep, and I'm not convinced what Amazon does is helping readers and authors everywhere. It's certainly not helping the independent bookseller community.

I'm more on Doctorow's side with his frustration over restrictions on his books and other products, and his willingness to kind of allow for piracy as a way to get more readers. I can see what he means there. He mentions something he calls "Dr. O's Law," meaning "when someone locks something of yours and won't give you the key, they're not doing it for your benefit." Well said.

He also usefully breaks down two scenarios, pulling in other venues for stories:

1) readers are over-saturated with material, or;
2) there are ever-more readers to find.

Around minute 33 or 34, Doctorow talks about what he heard from someone at Tor, his main publisher. This guy told Doctorow about the distribution system once in place, which had about 400 distributors that got books into non-book venues - grocery stores, drugstores, etc... These were mostly independent businesses, rather than chains, and were mostly unionized, so shelf stockers had job security and stuck around, and took bonuses for selling certain titles. These venues captured those folks who might not define themselves as book readers, who found titles in these non-bookstore venues and then maybe got hooked, and moved down to the bookstores. Then big box stores demanded national distribution and the network of small distributors collapsed. So non-readers don't really discover books outside of the massive B&Ns and Borders in the mall. But they're online, and they don't know they're readers. How do reach them? (This is leaving the lack of ethics from big box stores vis-a-vis labor alone - ahem.)

Doctorow has me, right? Then he drops this in (to paraphrase): so why not worry about capturing all those folks rather than bickering over pennies of price difference in e-books? But my reaction is, but more people go into bookstores than ever, because they are not small and intimidating, but huge and welcoming, with coffee shops, not to mention a certain cultural cache. You hear people throughout these giant stores (I can tell you from having worked in them) on their cellphones, proudly announcing, "Oh, I'm in the BOOKSTORE." It's like sitting in a coffee shop, post-Friends. These could be the same folks that started with the spinner racks at the local drugstore - just now they jump right in, starting at the oversized B&N while they wait with their family for a table at the Cheesecake Factory next door. I don't know about this sea of folks who don't know they're readers yet, whom publishers need to find.

He goes on to offer models that we might look to for successful ways of dealing with pricing. Again, though, I have to throw down a flag. He mentions airlines, comparing Jet Blue and others to less efficient airlines such as British Airways - ironic, given that BA is currently striking due to changes to working practices. Doctorow best be careful, for he runs the danger of wanting to cut labor short in order to get customers cheaper and cheaper - if not free - e-books. His point, however, is about price discrimination, a theory I don't feel I can explain accurately but which he explains nicely.

But I'm still figuring this out. Doctorow says you - the royal you, us publishers - want a "diverse, competitive, disorganized channel," so you can play parts off each other to get the best terms. He goes on to say John Sargent at Macmillan should have challenged Amazon's insistence on having publishers create e-files only readable by the Kindle, as Amazon would have had to come out and take a moral stand in support of books on the Kindle only - something they just couldn't do. It's a fair if somewhat in-the-weeds point.

He ends by talking about how publishers can make themselves useful going forward. One area is in social media: helping writers navigate this world so as to sell more books, since some fail miserably at it while others find great success there. (I'm still a bit perplexed as to how - or if -this actually sells books.) Well, I'd like to think publishers could do more than that. He also talks about publishers finding a way to keep options open, so authors can explore multiple platforms as they come on board, without the restrictions currently found in contracts.

I'm sad that there isn't a sense of collectivity in Doctorow's message. He says publishers have to maintain their autonomy, and have to help authors do the same. But what about partnerships that benefit multiple parties? What about successful authors helping up-and-coming, and successful publishers introducing new voices to readers who learn to trust said publishers? He's railing against big corporate publishers to a point and then stopping.

But if I think about it a bit more, I'd say he's probably working to keep everyone happy. He is criticizing the Kindle, but not making a broad-based attack as he's happy to have that as a venue for sales of his own work. Fair enough. But I'd like to see someone come out swinging as thoughtfully as Doctorow, but maybe a bit harder, to take on some blatantly unfair practices without being as delicate.

If nothing else, it's an interesting video, if you have 45 minutes to spare. (And no, I didn't have them to spare... oops...)

Friday, March 26, 2010

More Breaking Boston Bookselling News!

Okay, perhaps I'm just a little excitable.

News today in the Boston Globe that a group has started the Davis Bookstore Project, referring to Somerville's Davis Square neighborhood - where I once lived. (Somerville is in the Boston metro area, just beyond Cambridge, for those unfamiliar.) This ragtag bunch of internet developers, authors, publishers, and others hope to attract a bookseller to open a bookstore. This seems like an odd approach but hey, Somerville's kind of an odd place. It's an admirable mission that I certainly want to publicize here.

These folks are still bummed that McIntyre & Moore picked up and left the area not that long ago, moving to Mass Ave in Cambridge (actually, not too far away). This bookstore was a very eccentric sort of place, in many ways, and perhaps it still is. In Davis Square, it sat alongside vestiges of older Somerville, which was more of a working class enclave before the Red Line arrived and things changed, turning the place into a home for post-college creative types, and authors, and some queer folk, and academics, etc... There was McIntyre & Moore, and there was the McDonald's, and a discount grocery store, and the ubiquitous Dunkin' Donuts. But McIntyre & Moore smelled like a used bookstore, and was overflowing with somewhat overpriced (truth be told) used scholarly books of all kinds. The staff was also rather odd and eccentric, but devoted. I once walked in and asked if they ever hire folks part-time, and the person there openly laughed and said, "We just don't have turn over."

So M&M left and no one has moved into that spot and now these folks are saying well dammit, someone should. But it does seem strange, given that a really great and relatively new indie is just down Elm Street - Porter Square Books. I believe - and hope - that this place has done very well, and I know that they have well-attended events at the store fairly often. I know this is a very literate area, but can they really support two independents, especially with the world renowned Harvard Bookstore just 2 T stops, or a 30 or so minute walk or an even shorter bike ride, away.

In the last few years, Jessica Stockton Bagnulo - aka the Book Nerd - got a lot of attention after winning a Citibank competition for new businesses, giving her $15,000 to open Greenlight Bookstore in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn. Perhaps the Davis Bookstore Project can start attracting more attention as Bagnulo did - the Globe article got picked up by Shelf Awareness, so that's a start - and the ball can really get going, and some entrepreneur(s) can step up and make this thing happen.

The other idea is to have this group try the non-profit route (one store mentioned: Woodland Pattern Book Center in Milwaukee), though I know that one non-profit "store" hit snags recently somewhere that resulted in closing very soon after opening. (sorry, can't remember where to link...) I guess the key to non-profit status is making it about more than just selling books, which truth be told plays into an idea I've had percolating but won't go into. In Davis Square, though, I can easily imagine some crafty folks doing classes in bookbinding and other book arts, and other events that show a commitment to the community, thereby allowing for 501C3 status.

There are exciting possibilities and I know I'm going to keep watching.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Publishing FAIL

I know everyone in the publishing industry has a different reason for being here, and many people delude themselves into thinking they have some lofty goal to create classic books that will last for generations. I'd like to think I'm realistic, knowing that I will acquire and edit books in my time, some of which will disappear and others of which will stick around for awhile. My hope for all of them is that they contribute something useful to this world.

Then there's, ya know, the other extreme. I don't mean pulp fiction - something I actually enjoy on some level, at least historical pulp (read: Jim Thompson et al) or how-to books, which certainly have their value. I mean celebrity junk that is destined for a bargain bin at your local chain bookstore.

What will you see there in 2011, you ask? Publishers Weekly's daily newsletter today provided an answer:

Two of the stars of the hit MTV reality show, Jersey Shore, are hoping to prove that there is more to their lives than simply hair gel, suntan lotion, and skimpy swimwear. St. Martin's Press announced Tuesday that Jenni "Jwoww" Farley and Ronnie Ortiz-Magro have written a book, Never Fall in Love at the Jersey Shore, in which the two explain how to balance work, love, and partying, while properly taking care of hair, nails, and skin -- as well as everything else that goes into living an authentic Jersey Shore lifestyle. The book is being written with the help of Marc Shaprio.

Never Fall in Love at the Jersey Shore will be released in trade paper under the St. Martin's/Griffin imprint in early July, around the same time that the second season of Jersey Shore, set in Miami, is scheduled to premiere on MTV during the July 4th weekend. The deal for North American and world rights was negotiated by St. Martin's editor Alyse Diamond and agent Lori Perkins. John Murphy, St. Martin's director of publicity, toldPW that the press has not yet decided on the initial print run, but considering that 4.8 million viewers tuned into the first season's finale, he expects Never Fall in Love at the Jersey Shore to be "wildly popular" with a broad spectrum of readers.

And then we ask why people aren't reading books. Maybe we shouldn't model new books off of issues of Us Weekly.

Longer Shelf-Lives!

Here at SotB, we are open to creative uses of books themselves - or at least old books that need to be reused in some form, due to wear and tear. Admittedly, I found the use of book jackets as MacBook covers odd, but I love the book arts of Su Blackwell, Mike Stilkey, and my favorite, Thomas Allen, who does the most amazing art out of pulps. (After that post, I ran right out to Harvard Bookstore and got a copy of his book, Uncovered.)

So today, with this series in mind, I bring you yet another creative use of an old book, courtesy of the Mother Nature Network, via Shelf Awareness. It seems an Italian outfit called Gardenkultur makes planters out of old books!

Sadly, I don't speak Italian, so I'm counting on Matt Hickman's post at the Mother Earth Network to understand. He explains, "The website appears to be filled with all sorts of deep, metaphorical plant/book/rebirth talk which is just fine but when all is said and done, Gartenkultur planters are just straight-out cool looking. "

Hey, I love me some plants and love me some books, so may the two cohabitat happily.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Breaking Boston Bookseller news!

According to today's Publishers Weekly, Marshall Smith has announced his retirement, and while he will remain active with his outstanding Boston-area independent bookstore, Brookline Booksmith, he is putting the sister store, Wellesley Booksmith, on the market.

An established Boston-area bookstore in an affluent and very literate area for sale... I know this is hugely tempting for anyone who loves books in the Boston area. Any takers?!

It seems as if I have become the video guy...

but this is truly awesome (except for the guitar part).

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Mysterious Customer

As a publisher, I'm always feeling the challenge to find new ways of looking at the world - in my case, usually from scholars. As an Editor, I'm tasked with helping that viewpoint come through as strongly as possible (along with other tasks, of course). I have worked with many authors both while working for a literary agency and working for publishers both trade and academic, and I have had the long talk about the final product. We talk all around the main point, but the fact of the matter is, no one really knows how to make people just buy the damn book.

But then I stroll into the (independent) bookstore and it's a whole different conversation. Rather than pulling out my wallet and deciding what new books to buy based on the merit of the concept, the strength of the writing, and consideration of how the new book fits into the world of books and ideas in general, I just rely on my own quirks, quirks that I don't believe any publishing marketing person could predict.

Since I was in Portland, OR, I of course ended up at Powells... in fact, 3 times in 5 days. Specifically, I kept going back to the City of Books, which is the largest used and new bookstore in the world. It was a truly spectacular place that everyone should visit. Having said that, I had to limit my purchases as I knew I'd have to get them all home, to the East Coast. They did have signs saying they ship anywhere, so I should have just gone nuts and taken advantage.

One thing to point out here is that Powell's offers new and used on the same shelves - as a fellow editor said at the conference I was attending, "oh, like Amazon!" Yikes. Anyway, it was interesting to consider, especially when browsing fiction. A novel that did not come out all that recently inevitably would have multiple copies. (In particular, they had an impressive range of Jim Thompson novels.) As a customer, you could choose an old beat up edition, if you felt so inclined. Sure enough, I got a smaller and cheaper version of Joseph Olshan's Nightswimmer, a book I read years ago and which has come to mind recently. I didn't have a copy - I had read a galley as I was working with his agent - so I welcomed an opportunity to buy it, but I also didn't feel the need to get a great copy. $4 later, I was happy and didn't have to add too much to my luggage. I have seen new and used next to each other in smaller stores and found it confusing and irritating, but here in such a vast space it somehow worked well.

I loved the enormity of the space, color coded in a very sensible way. But I'm definitely struck by the dilemma of any publisher. Do you look at that vast space and try to figure out how to direct customers to your books, or do you look at that vast space and shrug, and just work on your area(s) to get your list(s) as strong as possible?

Just to complicate matters further, I found Alix Dobkin's new memoir, My Red Blood: A Memoir of Growing Up Communist, Coming Onto the Greenwich Village Folk Scene, and Coming Out in the Feminist Movement. I knew a friend studying homosexuality and the Left - a fascinating cross section, btw - would be interested, so I texted him. He replied in 10 minutes or so, saying, "Looking at it now at Harvard Bookstore. Looks awesome." Now Alyson Books doesn't care where my friend buys this book, as long as he buys it. But the bookstores can't predict and certainly can't control this way of browsing and choosing books. I could have just as easily tweeted from the store on my Blackberry, "omg Dobkin's My Red Blood out - gay leftie folkies unite!" (I think that's under 140 words but I ain't counting.) That in turn could have sent a bunch of potential customers scurrying for their local independent booksellers, or online, or to a chain (boo!).

Publishers just can't predict customers at this point in time. I was chatting about this point with a biographer who, like many biographers, writes great big fat books. His editor in the UK said outright that people won't buy big books anymore. The editor - at a giant trade house - also pointed to two books on his shelf. One was expected to do fine but got picked up by someone and talked up, and went on to sells tons of copies. Another was all set to get a big push and ended up never catching on. The editor shook his head and said he honestly could not have predicted those two outcomes, despite years in the business. There are just too many channels to launch or to ignore specific titles, and these channels cannot be controlled or predicted.

I hope this means a wider array of books and a market for them. I see big houses doing their best to co-opt these venues - twitter, facebook, blogs - and sometimes can't even tell who is human and who is just a spokesperson for a big house, pretending to be a personality but then slipping more and more marketing into tweets or status updates.

Ultimately, I go back to the concern of sustainability. If we all can promote books through our phones, blogs, tweets, facebook pages, etc..., are we more independent, as we're not waiting around for established publications to give attention to a book, or more dependent, as now we all race to our computers or blackberries or i-phones for updates all the time? Are we just opening ourselves up to more things that will manipulate and advertise to us?

I want to use technology for good - texting friend to buy leftie gay book from independent bookstore, pub'd by independent press - but I still remain conflicted. That's as good a conclusion as you're gonna get in March 2010, as things continue to change rapidly.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Polibrity Update: Scott Brown Moves Forward with Book

Last month, I reported the sad news that Scott Brown, Massachusetts' own resident polibrity, had himself an agent. Well in no time, a deal was made: Publishers Weekly reports today that Jonathan Burnham at Harper has acquired the project and has plans to pub it in 2011. No word on the advance, but one could guess it's quite generous.

Burnham claims that the book "will ultimately be a story of 'extraordinary courage, persistence, and hope... full of surprises.'" Doubtful.

And that's your sad polibrity update, from Portland...

Monday, March 08, 2010

What Happens in Portland...

I hope to have a real post up soon, but for now, I just wanted to alert readers that I am happily heading West, to Portland, OR to be specific. It's one of those places I've always been told I'd like, kind of like college when I was a teenager. (I distinctly remember hearing this more and more as I got closer to graduating high school - from parents' friends, from my quite senior co-workers at the craft store - as if they understood that I didn't like suburbia and suburbia didn't like me.)

Of course I'll be heading to Powell's, the bricks and mortar counterpart to the website we always use for our "now reading" titles. But where else?
If anyone has any great suggestions for bookstores or other literary sites in the Portland, OR area, please let me know in the comments section or by using this blog's email address, survivalofthebook at gmail dot com.

I will do my damnedest to provide a live action report from Portland here on the blog, which will make us bi-coastal, instead of just bicoastal curious.

Thanks!

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Zoobooks

Ah, if all book trailers were really like this.

Recovering Work for a New Generation

I had the privilege of attending the newest production at the American Repertory Theater (ART) in Cambridge (MA) last night, a new staging of Clifford Odet's play, Paradise Lost, directed by Daniel Fish, who splits his time between New York City and Berlin. I left the play thoroughly intrigued by Odet as a playwright and curious to learn more, but this curiosity could have been sparked by an article about the play, and I could have that 2 hours and 40 minutes back.

There are many reasons the ART's production fails so miserably, so tragically, but I'm afraid I have to put this one on the director. Maybe I'm wrong, but the articles the ART put into the press pack mention plenty about Fish's vision, and it seems to be this vision that took the play from being powerful and honest into being vague, messy, illogical, and downright awkward.

I'll say now that my partner - who shall hereinafter be referred to as A - read this turn away from the political voice toward a messy and ill-conceived supposedly more modern artistic vision to be a reflection of this director and possibly others' inability to deal with social realism and the powerful political vision behind this play. A is a cultural historian and has more resources to draw on to make this case, so I won't go on about it here, but I found it a compelling (and disturbing) point. My problems with this play certainly overlap with this point.

But for this blog's sake, I will take issue in particular with Fish's use - or misuse in fact - of video in the play, which was covered a bit by local media. Now a few years ago, the ART brought in Canadian director Robert Lepage to stage and perform a powerful play titled the far side of the moon, which used video in a way that was inventive, that really added a fantastic dimension to what we were watching on the stage, so I know this can be done well. The way Fish chooses to use video felt to me as if someone was thinking about how boring a play is - a bunch of people talking = snorefest - and decided they could make it interesting by projecting random things behind the actors. The audience will love moving images, from off stage. The video footage, in fact, was stale and confusing at once; rather than adding value, it seemed to tell the audience, "fear not, you are NOT in the 1930s, when this play was written; you are not watching something realistic but rather this is A-R-T."

Fish also chose to use video when action took place in the corner of the stage, at which point the technology failed in this opening night production. Someone came on stage - admittedly in all black - to fiddle with the camera, standing between the audience and the actors. At another point, the video failed again, not going up when it was meant to.

Similar to the video clips, there were times when the actors picked up microphones (one of which, again, failed during the production), speaking into the mics as an audience member at a daytime talk show. I have no idea what this served, except again to remind us we were at something.... new? different? A felt it was a backlash against the feared preachiness of a play written and set during the Great Depression by an openly leftist writer. I can certainly appreciate that reading.

But again, to try to tie this into the blog, I saw these "value added" techniques as patronizing gestures to an audience that would have heard the message of the play a lot louder if the director had not used this technology - which failed repeatedly - to dress up the play itself. It brought to mind our supposed need to incorporate video and audio and more into books. The mentality is that readers want all the bells and whistles, and some might. But I can't help but think many of us are being told we want the bells and whistles. Seeing this production of a 1930s play, a play that is undoubtedly an outstanding piece of writing, I wanted to strip out all this crap, as it faltered (along with faltering actors, sadly), there on stage. In fact, the most powerful moments of the play were straight forward monologues, or one particularly shocking act that was the level of "special effect" one might find in a high school production.

Included in the press materials is an article by Linda Matchan from the Boston Globe about Fish and video projections. Matchan writes,

Though the Odets play was written in 1935, Fish thought that the story - about the struggling American middle class, set vaguely “in the present’’ in an unidentified “American city’’ - was timeless and universal enough to warrant an abstract video treatment to add dimension to the play.

I'm no theatre director, admittedly, but this really strikes me as a simplistic way to "add dimension," and once again calls to mind attempts to dress up books. I wish my viewing of the play were not interrupted by badly produced video, just as I don't want to suddenly have a film clip on page 63 of an e-book I'm reading. I know we all like going to the movies and sometimes watching youtube clips, but film clips do not then need to be inserted into art to make it palatable.

The most frustrating part for me was when the actor playing a homeless man in the final scene of the play speaks to the middle class family who is losing everything. It's a powerful moment that, despite Fish's efforts, does speak to our current times while also reminding us of history. (Fish is quoted in a Cambridge Tab article by Constance Gorfinkle as saying that if audiences see the point of this production as being that nothing has changed since the Great Depression, "Then we've failed.") Fish, though, staged the scene so that the actor again pulls out a black cordless mic and speaks into it, in a kind of monotone. It renders what is clearly colloquial language into something wildly and unnecessarily alien, and removes his message from the everyday tragedy we are seeing unfold before us. The character in the play actually cuts off and mocks a fellow homeless person, and rather than again humanizing the pair, it makes this character seem like some larger voice, silencing the other character and speaking to the main characters from on high.

In this scene, the homeless man calls the middle class Gordons out as thinking they're above failure because of having read a book - sorry I can't quote directly. But he's making a point about education that echoes a point by the character Kewpie earlier, that education isn't enough to save you when the economy is this bleak. It's a troubling, very honest moment that could generate an interesting discussion, especially in a place like Cambridge, Harvard Square more specifically, where 75% of the people seem to have graduate degrees of some form. The discussion was stopped before it started due to this inventive staging that deadened the point.

As we rush into our digital future, it's worth slowing down what one academic referred to as "men and their toys" - simplistic but amusing. Not everything needs all these bells and whistles. Sometimes a book is best as a book, and the "value added" elements only take away from the power the original author invested in that book.

I guess the ART did more than just give me Clifford Odets to think about, but also helped me think through another reason I'm troubled by the growing movement to take books into a place where they will not all benefit.

Now off to find an Odets bio....

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.

Sociable