Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Thrill is Gone

Long time since I published a blog, way back in 2011, an eon in this write-it-as-soon-as-you-think-it age.  That's because  I have had to come to terms with the inevitable--that tomorrow's literature will be read on ebooks, and that content will be mostly ephemeral best sellers that won't even make good movies. Publishers will not take chances with  ebooks that don't sell except to a small audience.  Well-written, well-thought-out adult books will disappear.  Even today, anyone with access to the Internet can declare herself or himself an author, and publish an ebook one at a time sans any sign of editing, often at point of purchase.  Are you an author?  Me, too.

In a recent Jason Epstein article on the future of book publishing, he noted that on cyberspace book shelves today, Keats's nightingale exists alongside Anne Mary's haiku.  Traditional publishers with their necessary editing, fact checking, proof reading, storage, back lists, etc. will go out of business in the face of  cheap, ubiquitous, albeit mostly irrelevant, ebook publishing.  The time has come for us conventional publishers to serve ourselves more realistically.  If we don't design new and original ideas about Internet publishing, we're only a heartbeat away from being obsolete or dead.

However, I see us climbing slowly onto the Internet bandwagon.  We're starting to change our priorities a little.  To compete with the vampires that ebook readers love, we are finally treating mystery titles like quality fiction, and not as dismissive "genre" fiction.   I have convinced myself  that mystery titles often feature plots you wouldn't laugh at and some stylish writing to boot, but I can't help feeling guilty when I publish Dying on the Dot  instead of  my version of War and Peace.  Maybe enough twitnits and dogbloggers will like mysteries almost as much as they do those wildly-popular zombies and werewolves.  Maybe we old fogies can scoop up some of that  hysterical enthusiasm, too, if we fight back with something tougher than principle.  Even allowing that "information must be free" is nonsense, that our authors can't eat air and neither can we, we MUST learn to live with digital files in the less-than-genteel modern publishing world.  Traditional publishers, let's get cracking on learning to publish, sell and flog our brands online. Once we're a presence there, we can always cheat a little.  There will always be room to publish a few choice titles between hard covers, just as we've been doing since Gutenberg!
Barbara Phillips

For Epstein's exciting article about the future of publishing in the NY Review of Books for March 11, 2012, go to