September 17, 2012

Long Live Books!

There are so many discussions out there about the changing state of the publishing world. Some of them are looking at the flailing traditional publishing market and some are focused on the digital revolution of the industry.

What is good to see, though, is the debate. One of the best articles I have come across lately is this one about drowning in indie books. It shows a balance in its proofs that is often missing. It highlights major successes of both tracks as well as pointing out that neither avenue should be judged by the extreme successes alone.

The stigma attached to self-publishing or "Indie" publishing has always been that it removes the sieve from the market and allows a higher proportion of "bad" books to be produced. There is an assumption against the quality of the books and the care that may (or may not) have been put into them before publication. And to some degree, this is right.

What is forgotten, though, is the number of traditionally published books that no one ever hears about.

Unless you have a specific author or book in mind, how often do you actually find your next book by randomly searching through the shelves of the bookstore? More often, it is the books that are prominently displayed and showing their cover (which the majority of books in a bookstore are not) that will grab your eye and entice you to pick them up.

So what happens to all the short print run books or the ones that didn't have the huge marketing budgets? Or even just the books that have a very specific market that doesn't seem to be present in that store location? They are placed on the shelves for a month or two until they are returned to the publisher. Does that mean that they are any less worth reading? They did make it through the initial sieve. And what about the books that contain the same tired formulas peddled by the name of the author or character alone? The quality may not be there, but the power to draw an audience is - does that make them inherently "good" books? They have been published, after all.

The problem with print runs and traditional publishing as it has always been before now, is simply that the upfront costs prevent every book getting its fair chance. Publishers need to choose books that have a huge market appeal - sometimes even turning down great books which simply don't have the scope they are looking for. Like many other arts based industries, it is not always about the talent or the capability but rather who can fit the costume that already exists or what colour painting is going to suit the room.

The introduction of digital publishing has brought a wider range to the consumer. It has removed the barriers to public consumption. Therefore the influx of manuscripts of all kinds and qualities is inevitable. But instead of viewing this as a negative, I see it as something that shows that we are now the gatekeepers. We now decide what we want to read and what we don't. It allows a broader and more inventive market to be nurtured and developed. And instead of being the death of publishing, as many have claimed e-books would be, it is giving new life to readers and authors alike.

Long Live Books!

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