Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Publishing Forecast: The Sun Will Continue to Rise

Cute boy in biology class (OK, not-but same haircut)
I'm old enough to remember when answering machines began to catch on for home use. My parents purchased their first answering machine in the late 1970s, a great behemoth of a box that sat next to the hefty push-button telephone and recorded messages on mini-cassette tapes. I thought it was fantastic--no more wondering whether someone had called when you were out or relying on the fallible memories of household members to give you the message. (This turned out to be a mixed blessing when one realized there would also be no more kidding oneself that the cute boy in biology class may have called while one was at the mall.)

At the time, I knew a man who hated the answering machine with a passion. "I won't use it. I refuse to talk to a machine." I wonder how that's worked out for him.

When e-mail was gaining popularity in the 1990s, I had a friend who declared she had no use for it. "Why would anyone want to type a message when all they have to do is pick up the phone?"

Technological innovation has always sent some people running scared. Who remembers Napster? Remember how that young upstart made waves of tsunami proportions in the music industry? Back in the late 1990s, Napster's innovative use of Internet technology and peer-to-peer sharing revolutionized the way music was bought and distributed. Although it was shut down in 2001, Napster presented a major challenge the way things were done, and the music industry hasn't been the same since.

"Look at what happened to the music industry" is a common lament from those who declare that the rise of e-books is impacting the publishing world as the likes of Napster impacted the music world.
 Not so fast, says literary agent Rachelle Gardner at Books & Such. She's written an insightful post at the Books & Such blog about why NOT to be too quick to equate the book publishing industry with the music industry. For all they have in common, there are some significant differences that need to be taken into account before we declare the sky is falling.

Yes, there are many unknowns in this brave new world of electronic publishing. Yes, it's a hassle. Yes, there are growing pains, and many more to come.

According to Publishers Weekly, there's been a recent slowing of e-book sales compared to hard-copy sales. In the article, literary agent Laura Rennert said, “Whether in paper or digital, it seems to me that healthy competition is good for all aspects of the industry, so I hope traditional publishers, Amazon, and other players will continue to evolve successful strategies for getting content to readers and for increasing the market penetration of books in all the formats readers seem to want.”

As readers and writers, we watch these changes with equal parts wonder and skepticism. What will tomorrow bring? One thing's for sure. As long as people like us cherish the written word, it will always be around, in one form or another. The sun will rise tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that.

How do you feel about the rise of electronic publishing? Love your e-reader? Glad you don't have to lug a hardcover copy of War and Peace in your carry-on? Miss your neighborhood brick-and-mortar bookstore?

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