Thursday, December 3, 2009

New Challenges in Publishing

I was reading this morning an interesting article that highlighted elements from a speech of Steve Wasserman. I have put the full link to the article below, but it really got me thinking about what new challenges we have to face in publishing.

The predicament facing the publishing industry is best understood against the backdrop of several overlapping and contending crises...
I'm not sure if we are at a full crisis stage but I do have to say, the boat is sinking and we need to get organized and be ready before we go down with the ship. I think that too often, in publishing and likely many other industries out there, we seem to believe that things will find a solution on their own if we just give it time. While this might be the case, taking a more active role may insure that we have a better time surviving.

This active role does imply critical thinking and not simply reactionary thinking. As I look at many of the things that have happened in the romance and women's fiction industry, I see more of the reactionary thinking than critical thinking. I have seen new writing organizations form because they didn't like what happened in RWA. Instead of fixing a problem, people dove to new organizations. I am not saying this is bad. There is the saying, "if you don't like the way the game is being played, you can find another field to play on." This works here as well, but I often wonder if these new groups that formed, did nothing more than bring the same problems with them. Are any groups out there really looking at the key underlying problems, or are they looking only at the symptoms?

I was talking to a friend that is on an athletic team struggling for money. The team is doing all they can to "raise the money" to save the team. While this is good, I did ask if they were going to do anything about the spending and the structure of the team. Instead of reducing spending, they were just going to try to make more money. This is reactionary thinking, not critical thinking.

the first is the general challenge confronting publishers of adapting to the new digital and electronic technologies that are increasingly rendering traditional methods of production and distribution obsolete, and undercutting profit margins...
Remember the phrase, change is the only constant. Well that is what we are dealing with here. The publishing industry must be aware of these changes and take immediate steps to move in that direction. No, I am not saying to throw out the old methods. The key word here is INTEGRATE!

I find it interesting that when I read articles about e-publishing and then see surveys, we find that people are not necessarily diving all over the e-book think as much as we thought. Sure, sales are doing find from the perspective of e-publishers, but does this mean it really is replacing the traditional methods of publishing? I don't think so. Do the old methods undercut profit? I honestly have to say that I don't believe that to be the case. I think we have a larger issue to deal with. People just aren't reading.

Look, we are in a tough economy right now. When given a choice between buying a dinner or buying the latest book, we go for the dinner. I remember when my wife and I would spend hundreds of dollars at the book store buying books. They piled up around the house. Today, that is simply not the case.

I think the issue also applies to time people have to read (or the time they wish to devote). I know I run from 5:00 am until 11:00 pm every day. I find it tough some days just to sit down and casually read. Now, extend this argument. If I don't read, it means I am not buying books, which means the company isn't making money (e-format or not).

the second is the profound structural transformation roiling the entire book-publishing and book-selling industry in the age of conglomeration and digitization...
I think in this case, we are just dealing with companies that are becoming too large to handle. It's all about the money. I am afraid, however, that we are often focusing more on the money side of thing instead of the quality.

Sure, I get it it. As an agent, I often turn down stories that are really good, the writing is great, but selling the story is impossible. Not that people might not buy it, but the publishers have said they won't buy it.

and the third and most troubling crisis is the sea change in the culture of literacy itself, the degree to which our overwhelmingly fast and visually furious culture renders serious reading increasingly irrelevant, hollowing out habits of attention indispensable for absorbing long-form narrative and the following of sustained argument....
With my background in literarcy development and enhancement, this one really gets to me. Although I see purposes for blogs, twitter and the like. Although I love technology (but can't often afford it), it is this technology that is reducing our reading. We want it fast and we want it short.

When students do research papers, they rely on abstracts and not the entire research paper. They love programs like ProQuest and ignore the books. Little by little the reading is disappearing.

Even in schools, programs like the Accellerated Reader program promote reading for points not reading for quality. Students are forced to read books that are chosen for them and not those they want. Even the anthologies are full of stories that are not the highest quality. They were chosen for themes and the length. The days of reading novels are simply disappearing.

Sure, this is long winded but I think we see there are bigger things to deal with. I would encourage everyone to really stop and think about what the underlying problems are they have to deal with. Fix those, not the symptoms. And more importantly, THINK!




  1. The days of reading a novel are disappearing?

    Scott, do you really believe this??

  2. Here is the question: Are you riding on the wave of change, or holding onto the tree as the hurricane hits?

    As one of the oldest Internet engineers in existence I have seen change. When we started installing the internet the only places that were connected to it were the Universities through the National Science Foundation (NSF) network, which was funded by the government. Now even a cell phone can be connected even in the remotest area of China. However, don’t forget that the NSF is still part of the backbone of the internet.

    People want to hear a great story, just as they did when they sat around a fire and told them. Some people still want that story to be incased in a book. My mom will not touch a computer, my dad loves the internet. They both get what they want but my dad just has access to more. He also has to dig through a lot of junk, but I will say he is more current.

    If you stand in front of a fast moving train one of two things are bound to happen. I have seen those that refuse to move, very quickly be reduced to barely surviving. Those that laid the rails for the train became the backbone allowing people access. Connections can now be made worldwide. I never imagined as I typed ftp and a file name on my computer that the internet would ever be what it is today. Is your market the world? Are you restricting access, or trying to connect to those in China?

    One rant deserves another....