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The Nation Magazine Discouraged About Publishing

self-publishing-pressElisabeth Sifton, senior vice president of the literary agency Farrar, Straus & Giroux, and author of The Serenity Prayer: Faith and Politics in Times of Peace and War has written a long, thoughtful and discouraging essay on the future of books for The Nation called The Long Goodbye? The Book Business and its Woes.

She laments, and rightly so, the consolidation of trade publishing into profit driven conglomerates who have no interest in books, caused in large part by Reagan’s passion for deregulation. She despairs because we’ve lost most of our independent bookstores and finds the move toward so much vulgarity in publishing horrible. Sifton doesn’t hold much hope if any for the success of books on the internet, largely because the ‘net is driven by profit only.

And if all that weren’t bad enough, she does a credible job explaining in her essay why this loss of books is bad, really bad for our society because it stifles the distribution of ideas, all sorts of ideas.

I wish I didn’t agree with her, but I’m afraid she’s more right than wrong.

Of course, I tend to be optimistic even in the face of contrary evidence. I’m still hopeful that the ‘net will somehow help bring people and ideas together. Given the way search works I don’t yet see how the ‘net will help us not balkanize ourselves even more than we are, but when I realize my blog  is read in well over 100 countries, hope springs.


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{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Maybe that was how they got those big bald patches: from scratching their heads, trying to find a solution…

    SpikeTheLobster’s last blog post..A Blogging Mantra

    • Anne

      rotf… glad I didn’t have a mouth full of coffee, spike… I’d need a new keyboard

  • I don’t think Internet will kill the publishing industry, it might change it by it’s just another step of technological and social progress. Of course we need to make it a real progress, and be careful not to be swept by a completely profit-driven trend, as sometimes it seems to me that culture is being left aside, preferring very low-profile writing and information. It’s such a shame to see that trash TV is more popular than well-researched and informative shows… If we all try, I think we can change this trend and give our contribute to raise the level of education in our society 🙂

    Angela’s last blog post..Tea and tradition in typical Istanbul

  • Ed

    Monks who spent their lives duplicating books by hand probably had the same reaction when Gutenberg mass-produced the Bible. The same was true when publishers adopted paperbacks for something other than Mickey Spillane detective pot-boilers. Publishing is a continuum from cave iconographs to the Internet. If you have a story to tell, there will always be someone somehow there to read.

    Ed’s last blog post..Chicago Sun-Times Files For Chapter 11

  • I think I agree with the first two responses here: the business is changing, not dying. Books will always exist – there are just too many people who love them and need the portability and ease they provide.

    It *is* a shame that the little independent publishers are going, but at least the overwhelming (read “draconic”) Amazon regime is now being blistered, despite their “use us or get no sales” approach.

    Sites like Scribd and Smashwords are doing an excellent job in getting easy publishing into the hands of every author, even if it’s only electronically. And self-publishing or POD-style production (is it just me, or does that make you think of Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ pod-people?!) isn’t too far behind.

    SpikeTheLobster’s last blog post..A Blogging Mantra

  • Hmmm, the demise of print books. Is it really Fahrenheit 451 again? I think that writers are going to have to embrace POD publishing with all the associated work that goes with it. Writers are being pushed into learning about marketing, sales and promotional aspects of their craft, not to mention typesetting and layout. Yes there are dozens of POD publishers on the net, and yes a lot of them need to learn a sense of ethics and fair play, but for every POD on the net there is probably another one or two in your area that do not operate as a scam on the net and offer very good rates and quality of product.

    There are also thousands of people who are in the business of what I suppose would be pre-production services for writers who want to roll their own, as it were. Writers, editors, critics, typesetters and graphic artists are only a Google search away.

    I would suggest that rather than running to keep up writers should just stay ahead by learning the new game rules as fast as possible.

  • The advent of the VCR didn’t kill movie theatre business, so I can’t get on-board with the idea that the internet is going to kill print publishing. It is certainly altering it, but that is not a bad thing. All things change, and being able to respond to those changes is part of being a successful businessperson.

    The people who most lament the changes that occur in an industry are usually those who have the most invested in the current business model – witness the reactionary moves made by the recording companies over the past 10 years or so.

    Benjamin Hunting’s last blog post..My Miata Track Car

    • Anne

      lol, we agree we agree! Ed, I love the mental pix of the monks all worried…

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