Over my oats & coffee this morning, I read an article in the Walrus about the (imperiled) future of the publishing industry. Written by Noah Richler, it detailed the recent decline in book sales, and the increasingly reliance on bestsellers to fund the rest of the "long tail" of the publishing industry (the middle-of-the-pack authors whose books will probably not break even for their publishers).
The article discussed next steps for the industry. For a while, people hoped that the internet would help spread a wider net -- that readers, having access to so much more than they would at Chapters -- would start buying up publisher's backlists. Maybe they'd buy the first work by an author whose second work had been short-listed for the Giller. Or maybe word-of-mouth would lead them to try out a middle-of-the-packer they'd never heard of before.
Instead, it seems the opposite has happened.
Richler posits that the people who buy bestsellers buy them to join a conversation. They want to be have impromptu book club chats over dinner with colleagues or family members -- get in on the ground floor when Oprah offers up platitudes. So the internet's not exactly gonna spur them in the directions that the rest of us bookgeeks were hoping for.
So. What next? Digital book readers? We'd eschew the process of shipping lovely middle-of-the-pack books to massive retailers only to have them shipped back for destruction; this'd save heaps of pulp & paper. We'd fork over fistfuls of cash to the electronics companies making the readers, and then we'd be able to download books like people download music on iTunes.
Now comes the part where I'm supposed to offer an opinion, I think, but I'm a bit baffled.
I've lovingly made zines for years, distributing them at cost. The artists' collective I was a part of in Guelph never made any money. Extra earnings covered later losses, the tides of running shows and putting on festivals. Here's the catch: we all had day jobs. Some more interesting, some better paying than others, but all day jobs.
I love the feel of paper, too. I'm a tactile person -- aren't we all? Isn't there something to be said about feeling the book as you read it?
That said, I don't want to be a curmudgeon at the age of 25. And, funnily enough, I'd llooooovvve to be one of those middle-of-the-pack authors. The view seems great from down here.
Thoughts? I'm still digesting this breakfast. I don't have any tidy conclusions quite yet.
I did start thinking about how we'd discussed the possibility of digitizing our anthology. I did start wondering about where we saw it going. I am so invested in creating something that is nice to look at and nice to handle and functions like a piece of art. There is a large part of me that'd rather have 200 people find space on their bookshelves for our lovely linen-covered anthology, than have 800 people read three lines from six different pieces after accessing our anthology online. Hmmm....