The future of the publishing industry and the book

Every once in a while the world seems to shrug, like a restless beast trying to dislodge parasites. Of course, the parasites of the world are you and I, dear Reader, the ever more destructive human being. And the world shrugs in different ways, usually with some measure of natural disaster like a tsunami or an earthquake.

But sometimes those shrugs are man-made and the current economic crisis appears to be one of them. So what does the economic downturn along with the nature of technological advancement mean to publishing? Well, it’s interesting you should ask. You did ask, right? (What do you mean “non sequitur”?)

As an ambassador of indie publishing I’m all about variety and daring in the selection of new books and the homogeneity of the big publishing houses bothers me. The same thing bothers me about the film and music industry. We’ve been through this stuff before.

Interestingly, Tom Engelhardt has written an interesting piece in The Nation addressing this very subject. He talks about the changes occurring in the world of publishing and it makes for interesting reading, especially for small and independent press. Here are a couple of key quotes:

Small independent publishers, which often have trouble surviving even in good times, are nonetheless more agile, more experimental, and closer to the Internet revolution than are the big houses. They are capable of turning on a dime, while the conglomerates–with their long lead times (often eight months to a year to put a book in the store)–probably can’t turn on anything, which leaves them losers in an Internet world in which yesterday’s news might as well be last year’s.

The book remains a techno-wonder that not even the Kindle has yet surpassed. But it’s a wonder in a very crowded entertainment universe in which habits, reading and otherwise, are changing fast. Add to that a world plunging into the worst of times and you have a combustible combination. The chain bookstore, the bloated publishing house and the specific corporate way of publishing that goes with them are indeed in peril. This may no longer be their time. As for the Time of the Book, add on another century if you want, but in our ever-restless universe it does seem to be shortening.

Viva la revolution!

Read the whole article here
– very worthwhile.


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6 thoughts on “The future of the publishing industry and the book

  1. Interesting, but at times depressing, read.

    Just a comment on the bit about Depression era that it raises – I think that it was more that the Publishers took the wrong message from it.

    What really did well were the dirt cheap Pulp Magazines. Much cheaper than books and catering to pure escapism, they weren’t the giant, expensive door stops published now days, or attempts to cash in on so-called celebrities who can’t write to save themselves.

    I’d like to think the current crisis could lead to a return to such collections of short stories, if combined with current technologies such as the ‘net. Will it happen? That remains to be seen.

  2. It’s an interesting idea, Andrew. A return to good pulp fiction is not a bad thing. There are already a number of online magazines dedicated to short fiction and some of them have a good following. They tend to be genre sepcific, like The Harrow for horror and spec fic, or AntipodeanSF. I’ve had work published by both of those (AntipodeanSF is forthcoming) and they have a lot of respect in the industry.

  3. Oh, there are some out there, no doubts, but it would take a major shift for them to reach the sheer popularity of the pulps at their height (20s-50s)when there were dozens of them, some selling up to 1 million copies an issue. Some authors could earn a living churning out stories for them. And many well know authors (and characters) were born out of the pulps.

    With modern technology, you could produce an ezine even cheaper than they could for the pulps – the trick would be to somehow get a million subscribers..

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