The past and future of publishing

An interesting article at Wired about the state of publishing right now, with attention to the growing power of (some) authors as e-books take a larger share of industry sales. What I found encouraging from this piece is their contention that e-books have increased the overall market for books (Amazon says that customers who buy a Kindle increase their book buying by a factor of five compared to their previous habits) and that major publishers, though definitely in transition and turmoil, are doing just fine financially.

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And then to follow up on this, a sophisticated, fascinating piece from the Virginia Quarterly Review about the business of literature over the past few centuries. Some quotes:

“It is the Exceptionalists, the ones who claim the mantle of defender of the book, who undermine the book by claiming that it is a world unto itself, in need of special protection, that its fragility in the face of the behemoth or barbarian du jour (Amazon, the Internet, comic books, the novel, the printing press, illiteracy, literacy, to name but a handful of purported sources of cultural decline) requires insulation, like the skinny kid kept away from the schoolyard and its bullies.”

“Books not only are part and parcel of consumer capitalism, they virtually began it. They are part of the fuel that drives it. The growth of the chain model in books offered the twentieth-century public the opportunity to decry the groceryfication of the bookstore, utterly belying the reality, as Striphas outlines in The Late Age of Print—by quoting Rachel Bowlby—that the bookstore is in fact the model for the supermarket”

“The publisher is an orchestrator in the world of book culture, not a machine for sorting manuscripts and supplying a small number of those manuscripts in improved and bound form to a large number of people via a retailer-based supply chain best suited for the distribution of cornflakes, not ideas.”

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Update: Salon has a response to the Wired piece, saying “If print could talk, it would surely be telling the world, Mark Twain-style, that reports of its demise have been greatly exaggerated…E-books are definitely here to stay, but it seems that many, many readers — a threefold majority, in fact — still prefer print.”