So we're in a recession, some indie bookstores have closed their doors, the chain bookstores are in trouble (Borders!), publishers are laying off staff and books are selling in different ways everywhere you look.
The publishing industry is changing fast. A friend of mine recently asked me "How come I keep choosing careers that quickly go obsolete?" It's a question a lot of newspaper and magazine writers are asking (perhaps publishers as well).
Anyway, so I help run a small nonfiction book imprint, and right now, in the height of this economic uncertainty ruling the market, it's a difficult time to consider acquiring new projects. But we continue searching for the next important book with hope twinkling in our eyes, and an ever-present, somewhat snarky, cost-cutting attitude.
On blogs here and there, writers and agents seem to bemoan this publisher or that, complaining about their lack of vision, their cheap lowball offers or the way they try to stick it to the writer or agent by rejecting all their projects outright. But these days, and I think we all know it, publishers are just trying to be wise and keep their companies in business.
Most publishers and editors are looking at the market with a very conservative view of the future, hoping for the best, but often planning for the worst. Of course, in our line we have delayed a few of our riskier releases, and we've tried to bring our total release count down to a reasonable level, all the while budgeting for recession and hoping for everything to stabilize. But I still walk into work every morning hoping to find the next amazing book, the next dynamite book idea, author or written voice in the new manuscripts sitting on my desk.
If there's one thing I know, it is this:
While the future of publishing will look vastly different than it looks today, people will always want to read books, in some form. The greatest ideas in the history of the world, the ideas that have transformed countries and have grown into world-changing movements traveled the globe via books. And whether those books were hand-scrawled on parchment or blitzed across a screen and RSS fed to the world via blog or podcast, it doesn't seem to matter all that much. We will always use words, and books in some form, to communicate new ideas, to fuel new moves of humanity, and to communicate to the masses. The formats will change. The revenues models will evolve. But we'll always need words to communicate our ideas.
And don't get me started on stories. We will always need story to tell those next to us on the journey just how we see the world, and for those who come after us to learn about what mattered in our time.
But despite all these lofty thoughts, I go into work in the morning and think about how blogs, digital books, e-books, e-readers, cell phone book apps, serially-podcasted novels, Kindle readers and books in a format that do not exist yet, will change our business and our art form.
I contend, at least for today, that we will forever want to read books in a physical form of some kind, while books in other digital and hand held formats will certainly flourish. I believe that books will grow and reach new audiences through dozens of new channels, and this to me, can only be a good thing.
I do not believe that physically bound books will disappear, but do you agree? In the future, how do you want your books? How do you want to read?