My two favorite essays of the week
Top 10 Publishing Insiders (& Outsiders) to Follow Online
This month’s Writers Digest is particularly useful, I think. An outstanding piece by Chuck Wendig on the long game of indie publishing. A really useful primer on the ebook market from Jeremy Greenfield. And a fun Top 10 list of publishing people-resources. The last feature, compiled by Jane Friedman, is a brilliant entry point for anyone looking to engage in relevant and stimulating conversation about the shifting state of affairs in book publishing today. For $3, this issue is an exceptional bargain. Buy it here.
The 11th Annual BookFinder.com Report lists the most searched-for out-of-print books. I recognize very few of the books, but the titles alone are entertaining. My favorites: #11, #25, #72, #91.
Most of the books published over the course of history are out of print today. For hundreds of years the lifecycle for the vast majority of books has been the same: a book is written, it is published, many people buy and enjoy it, the book begins to fall out of favor and then publishers stop printing copies and the book falls out of print. This happens to exceptional books, average books and books that perhaps should never have seen the light of day in the first place. This lifecycle remained the same from the days Gutenberg walked the earth until the very recent past; a book being out of print meant it was a dead book. Once a book was dead the only way you were going to read a copy was to find someone to lend, give or sell it to you, or convince a publisher that issuing a new pressing was going to be financially viable.
In recent years, however, two technologies changed the landscape for out of print books, and created major debate among readers in the process. Print on Demand Books (POD) and Electronic Books (ebooks) have forced us to ask two questions
1) Are these technologies helping book lovers?
2) Does out of print exist in 2014 anyway?
Part of the fun is that people in each of TM&T tend to think that they do understand the other two (and that the other two are run by idiots). But they see each other in terms of their own preoccupations, rather than looking at the real drivers in a quite different industry:
Media companies look at tech and telecoms and say “well, they’re just a channel for our stuff”
Telcos look at tech and media and say “they’re using our networks so we should control everything”
Tech companies look at media and telecoms and say “a little disruptive technology would change everything”
So, rather like the blind men examining an elephant, who each feel one part and conclude the elephant is a snake or a tree, when TMT companies look at another industry they tend to see the bit that matters to them and assume that that’s the important part. Tech people have this problem particularly badly: a repeated failing of tech companies is to look at media and telecoms, see some tech, and think it’s the key point of leverage in those markets. Mobile networks and TV do look like tech should be a crucial lever, but that isn’t necessarily so.
The problem is, this sort of ignorance and misunderstanding is often how we get true disruption - people are so ignorant that they don’t know something can’t be done and won’t work, so they go and do it, and it works."
Eisler vs Gottlieb + the rhetoric of the new publishing economy
Independent author Barry Eisler and Trident chairman Robert Gottlieb spar at The Bookseller.
For some, this may seem tired territory, but to me, the two radically different worldviews reflected in this back-and-forth represent the point of departure for trade publishing’s rapidly bifurcating future.
Last week’s Digital Book World conference was as stimulating an event as one could ask for, with many different perspectives represented, and a remarkable array of tools and trends unpacked. But for the most part, the event choose not to tackle the world outside establishment publishing, which is exploding in ways the establishment cannot fully name or measure, and fragmenting in ways that resist any kind of mapping with the tools we’ve been using. (DBW’s programming was done excellently, of course: for paying attendees looking for programming that equipped and informed them, they found it. You can’t program for those not in the room.)
But this conversation (if it can be called that, as Gottlieb seems not to be fully engaging most of Eisler’s points) helpfully illuminates the parallel world that spins alongside the establishment conversations. And for that, it’s worth reading and remembering.