Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Questions and Answers:

1) Is the book business as we know it over? The outlook for conventional paper books is dire, but not yet dead. As more and more people switch to e-readers like Kindle, Sony Reader, Nook, Barnes and Noble's new gadget, fewer are left to read conventional paper. That, however, does not help the book business in general, as those switching are not making up for those not buying books. To solve this issue, publishers must not only have e-reading capacity, they must rethink old paradigms. The disgraceful practice of "returns", where booksellers return to the publisher any unsold books, must go the way of the buggy whip . The author-publisher relationship needs updating, too. Will books cease to exist, though? To me, as long as civilization exists, so too will books, whatever their forms.

2) Will the new "Vooks" take hold and change the way we read books? The "vook", a combination of video and e-book is the latest techno gadget to burst upon the scene. Videos are interspersed throughout electronic text. So far, these vooks seem to be genre types like fitness, diet, beauty, and romance. One reader said he liked the idea of presenting a picture of the protagonist (in novels) as it "makes the story more real". What ever happened to the imagination?

3) What exactly is the meaning of a "good" book? To me, books mean new ideas, new ways to get a handle on humanity. If all the cookbooks, how-to books and pardon me, Michael Chabon, sci-fi works disappeared tomorrow, I wouldn't despair. What I want in a book is a chance to change my often-narrow opinions of certain people, actions and concepts.

4) Will authors go for new-type contracts in this digital age? It's going to be a gamble, but I think a smart one. For instance, even though the number of books sold is down and some large publishers are reading fewer manuscripts, my house, Bridge Works, is receiving more mss than ever. That means more writers who want to be heard. To me, that suggests some compromises on contracts will be open to discussion. I have not heard from any writers (or agents) who feel otherwise. Do you?

5) Is the independent book business threatened? Not as long as enough adults really value reading. As I say, Bridge Works receives more manuscripts than ever. That said, I should also make full disclosure. Small publishers, dedicated to quality books above all, will never have the assets of larger publishers, most of whom are now owned by multinational corporations. Conventional book reviewers, with less space and fewer ads in their review pages, generally won't review the independents. However, online reviewers are swarming out there in cyber space. So, that's a good thing. Moreover, I feel confident that once two-page UTube posters age, they too will appreciate the value of a nice, long story, well-developed and well-told. With characters you can dream about and learn from.

Barbara Phillips
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