Change in Publishing: (not really) answers to (not really) questions. Writers, insiders and publishers discuss freely about 5 popular tags. Prev: Stephen Brown | Next: Thierry Crouzet. Follow us: RSS | Twitter | Facebook
Jacob M. Appel Jacob has won many awards*: *Boston Review (1998), New Millennium (2004, 2007, 2008), Faulkner (2004), O. Henry Award (2001). Bioethicist, he writes for The Huffington Post. Fallout | The Responsible Neighbor
I am not one to believe that ebooks will replace traditional books anymore than radio broadcasts replaced the demand for concert tickets or television supplanted live theater. Instead, I think that ebooks will fill a niche of their own that both exists independently of the traditional book market and works synergistically with it. On some occasions, readers will want the convenience of downloading a book onto an e-reader at their desks, while on other occasions they will desire the coziness of cuddling up in bed with a dog-eared, spine-cracked paperback. Much as some nights one wants to attend a symphony and other nights one wants to listen to a symphony from the comfort of one's own home, the traditional book and ebook will meet different needs.
Storytelling is at the essence of the human experience, so I have no doubt that people will continue to tell stories, and read stories, up until the moment when we, as a species, manage to destroy ourselves. In the interim, I am confident that, as educational opportunities improve across the globe, the scope and size of the reading public will continue to expand.
As the traditional publishing houses become increasingly risk-averse, there is a growing opportunity for independent publishers to push the creative envelope. Fifty years ago, major publishers nurtured young talents and took risks and championed literature. Now they market books like lightbulbs or tampons. They have a spring line of books and a fall line of books. In the long run, this approach does little to cultivate future writers, particularly innovative ones, or to expand the scope of the reading public. Such an approach is short-sighted and disturbing. Fortunately, independent publishers are increasingly filling the role that their larger competitors have forsaken.
I suspect that, in the long run, ebooks will be supported by advertising revenue and doled out for free. Or readers may even be paid by sponsors to read them. Imagine a world in which schoolkids receive hard cash to read serious works of literature. As long as the authors of these works are insulated from pressures to adjust their writing to the demands of such sponsors, as journalsists have traditionally been, I see no downside to advertising-sponsored ebooks.
Much of the innovation in publishing occurs way below the radar screen these days--in university literary journals and at small presses. That is not to say that there are not some wonderful books being published by the major houses. Writers like Dan Chaon, Kevin Brockmeier, Elizabeth Graver, David Orozco and Robert Olen Butler (to name a few of my favorite short story authors) constantly challenge readers in new and unexpected ways... Yet there is also a great deal of bland drivel being churned out at a record pace. What is most alarming is that some editors and publishers at major houses cannot seem to distinguish between great literature and bland drivel, or--even worse--they have stopped caring about the distinction.