Monday, June 8, 2009

Of publishers and industries

BookExpo America may have been a couple of weeks ago, but its impact is still being felt. At least, by those of who follow Three Percent, eagerly awaiting the next installment in the series about points that popped up during the expo. While all are interesting in painting a picture of publishing today, a few particularly striking points were raised (*profanity warning):

If the industry wasn’t fucked, there would presumably be enough space in the culture for long-form, independently edited print reviews, book news magazines, online literary mags, bloggers, social networking recommenders, etc., all of which would connect readers with books in different ways, with different levels of authority.

Presenting the problem in one concise paragraph. While the entire entry in the BEA series is interesting, it's the point raised here that really got my attention. The article aims to bring up the problems regarding bloggers and publishers but here it's pretty clear. The left hand has no idea what the right hand is doing. Each medium is separate, has separate rules and different points but all seem to be competitive. Unnecessarily so, especially taking into account how different they are. The book-blogging panel was allegedly meant to find a way to bridge bloggers and publishers together, but all it did was highlight the industry's flaws, misunderstanding the purpose of many blogs. Bloggers have existed for years; many get free advance copies from publishers and do plenty of publicity for these books. But all of the coverage takes blogging as competition when compared to newspaper critique. Which, Post points out, is hardly relevant anymore, especially since newspapers barely appear at this expo. The next installment (the most recent), though, is the one that stands out most:

Or even better, why couldn’t BEA have a panel about e-books that includes a cultural critic, a publisher, an author, a reader? Create a space for real debate and discussion?

I know I’m repeating myself, but publishing is really, really shitty at doing market research. But what if you had a few thousand (ten thousand?) “regular readers” hanging out in one place where you could potentially interact, ask them questions, engage in some sort of feedback loop that would improve your business practices? This could be revolutionary . . .

The panels that I've seen (National Book Critics Circle on book reviews in 2010, here and here) don't have this. Which is a pity, because it really makes the most sense. The book industry spends all day complaining about how they're failing, how nobody wants to read anymore and how everything is over for them. The fact is that they're wrong. People still read and being arbitrarily told what people do or don't want to read shows how out-of-touch publishers are with the readers who ultimately purchase their books. For instance, some publishers are certain that Americans don't want to read foreign literature (part III; also Literary License's thorough take). And so they will not bother seeking out quality foreign literature for translation. A pity and a shame.

The book industry has for too long done whatever it has thought is right and has too often been incredibly wrong. Most readers want different types of books. Even readers with strictly set comfort zones enjoy looking outside the box every once in a while. Only publishers aren't willing to think clearly when it comes to eBooks and the future of the printed book. Publishers aren't willing to admit that the internet and access to free information make the market a different place than it was ten years ago. They aren't willing to work with the public to finding a solution. We get patronizing publishers who don't ultimately care about getting quality books out there. We get a book fair that doesn't admit itself to the greater public and alienates common readers. Post points out that almost every other country with a major book fair gets massive publicity in the non-book world. Only BEA remains exclusive and closed off, preferring pointless panels about how bloggers shouldn't be considered the same as professionals and other subjects along those lines. It all seems a stupid affair, something that may have once worked wonderfully to hype booksellers and reviewers up about books. A novel idea. Now it only seems like a display case of an out-of-touch industry. Harsh, but sometimes that's how it looks.


  1. the industry is changing. i think there is an appropriate place for bloggers within it, but it's going to take some serious thought- and some time- for all of us to figure out what that role is.

  2. This was great. It is clear that the industry is in transition right now, what remains to be seen is which direction it will take and whether that will be the result of careful, nuanced thinking or some blind run in the hopes of saving itself.


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