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Publishing Futures

I’ve seen a disturbing trend lately of headlines like “Can Any Device Save Publishing?” and the like. I started this year with “Still Not Dead” posts about the industry (inspired by Rachel Caine’s brilliant still not dead posts when she was going through something a whole lot more serious – cancer). I’m going to finish the year the same way.

Publishing is not dead. Is it changing? Of course. The seasons change, the date changes, my socks and underwear…well, now we’re just getting personal. Of course, we need to change with it. More than half of the conversations I’ve had lately have been about this very same topic. But authors will always be needed to write new and exciting books, agents will be needed to submit and negotiate the terms, editors will be needed to make these works all they can be, designers will be needed for lay-outs, art departments for covers, publicists for…you get the idea. Whether these books are downloaded in e-book or digital audio form, ordered on-line or bought from brick and mortar stores, publishing will survive.

Me? I’m buying a lot of books this holiday season. New, not used, so that the author gets the royalties and the sale factors in when publishers look at an author’s numbers and decide whether to buy his or her next work. I love inexpensive books as much as the next person, but one way to assure that beloved series continue is to buy new and close to their release dates.

I’m also vowing this new year to become one with my Kindle so that I can do more reading on it, though I have to admit I don’t think I’ll ever kick my addition to bound books. There’s just something about them.

My husband has always loved audio books, but my mind is usually going in too many different directions to focus on them. This summer, we took a long drive to and from Tennessee to go kayaking with Gwen and Rod Hunter, and my husband had Orson Scott Card’s wonderful ENDER’S GAME on the stereo. I was hooked. When it finished, we immediately moved on to SPEAKER FOR THE DEAD. Now there’s yet another wonderful way I can appreciate the written/spoken word.

I don’t think we should bemoan the changes that are taking place in the industry (though I do think we need to make sure that the companies that control the technology and platforms are not the ones calling the shots on pricing, etc. – see earlier posts on price wars and loss leaders). I think we should celebrate that there are so many ways for people to experience our art. The important thing is how we set the standards and negotiate the terms now so that we have a sustainable business plan.

My two cents.

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( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 10th, 2009 02:51 pm (UTC)
Thank you. I've been annoyed by those same headlines, but hadn't stopped to pinpoint exactly why.

Certain publishers might be in trouble and need saving, but publishing as a whole? Not so much. There's a huge difference between "Publishing is changing" and "OMFGWTFBBQ PUBLISHING IS GOING TO DIE! It's game over, man! Game over!!!"
Dec. 10th, 2009 03:21 pm (UTC)
- For me, the Kindle died when it turned out that Amazon can delete anything they like from the device, any time they like. That gives them more control over the device than I like anyone but me to have.

- I'm holding out on e-book readers until someone (other than Sony -- I don't buy Sony products anymore; at least Sony Germany is very customer unfriendly) makes a device that can read most formats (PDF, TXT, DOC, CBZ, and others that I might not think of) without any pesky DRM (giving me control over the device I'm buying) at a decent price (unter €100.00).

- I don't do audiobooks. They dosn't work for me. I've discovered that I have to concentrate harder if I listen to an audiobook, and my mind tends to wander more. That point was made this week when the only thing I had to while away two hours on a train this week was an MP3-Player with audio plays. Halfway through, I got bored, my attention wandered, and I finally stopped the playback because I had completely lost track. In over 40 years of reading, that happened only once with a book.
Dec. 10th, 2009 03:38 pm (UTC)
black13- I'm with you personally on reading electronically; it gives me a headache, and I hate the heat generated by electronics. I also worry about all the tossed battery acid in the landfills, etc, etc.

However, there are people like the guy who cuts my hair; he loves stories but is dyslexic. He "reads" everything he can that is recorded. And there's my dad, one of those men who say in a very superior tone, "oh, I don't read fiction." But he sure the heck listens to it on the long car rides he takes to visit his far flung family. And lastly, I have a highschool friend who is vision impaired, but she can read emails sent in big font, and that's the treasure of an ereader. Just as not all books appeal to all people, not all forms of reading fit every reader. Like varkat, I say anything that promotes ideas/stories to a bigger audience is great even if I personally won't buy it. And I intend to keep buying bound books- for every gift occasion I can think of. I just got an email from my son's homeroom mom. We must all send a book for the holiday gift exchange. Woo, hoo! Hope that idea spreads- books not candy.

Happy Holidays and here's to a Spectacular New Year!
Dec. 10th, 2009 09:54 pm (UTC)
It's also great for commuters. My husband used to have over an hour drive to and from work every day. Goes so much faster with a good book! And if you think it's hard to text and drive, just try reading and driving . Audio books much safer for everybody.
Dec. 10th, 2009 04:04 pm (UTC)
I've seen two things recently that give the lie to "publishing is dead":

First, the resurgence of vinyl records. Seriously. According to the NY Times, 2009 was the biggest-selling year for vinyl since 1991, and it's not just old fogeys who are buying them. Lady GaGa released a vinyl edition of her latest album. Meanwhile, sales of CDs are plummeting.

Second was the observation msagara made regarding readers in her bookstore bypassing books from legit publishers because they looked self-published. While others were discussing the issue of book design, I took away this thought: Readers are avoiding self-published books. Therefore, they want gatekeepers. They want publishers and editors and agents, all those people who trim out Sturgeon's 90%.

My bigger concern is that in the rush to trim expenses and pad bottom lines, publishing houses are killing the thing that can save them, the thing that many readers want regardless of format: EDITING. Editors are not given time to edit anymore.

Acquisitions editors don't get the needed time to go over the writer's words and story, which has pushed a good deal of that task back onto agents (who are increasingly hiring slush readers of their own). Substantive- and line-editing only happen if the agent does it or arranges for it. Writers whose good friends have these talents are lucky writers indeed.

Copy editors are increasingly being avoided altogether. Where they are used, there's been a push to go with the cheapest, who are generally the least qualified. (In my day job, I get a lot of resumes from people who want to be copy editors, supposedly because they have good grammar skills. This demonstrates that they don't know what CEs do, as grammar is only one small part of the job.)

Proofreading has obviously been dispensed with at most publishers. Woe be the writer who can't proofread their own stuff, because no one else is looking at first pass pages.

So, in summary: If publishing goes under, it will be by suicide, not murder or mischance.
Dec. 11th, 2009 12:07 am (UTC)
Books are great holiday gifts
I am so glad to hear that other people have made a stand and are supporting fellow authors. I bought everyone on my Christmas list a book this year.
Whether your reading for pleasure or for school, books stimulate the mind. It has been proven that people who read daily are less likely to suffer symptoms of Alzheimer Disease.
Dec. 11th, 2009 05:51 pm (UTC)
The future of publishing
A professor friend of mine, and voracious reader of fiction, told me that the Kindle has substantially increased the number of books she reads. She loves it, and her testimonial has led me to think about getting an e-reader. I appreciate the contributions here that explore some of the various challenges and opportunities presented by technology and publishing. I am convinced, though, that if I had an e-reader I would be subscribing to many more general and literary magazines. I'm hesitant now because of all the clutter they cause as I get behind managing them. Plus electronic versions would substantially cut down on the cost of printing and mailing for the publications.

I didn't see the format of your old site, but I like the colors and format of the present one.
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