Ecclesiastes 3:1 "There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven."
(Photo courtesy of Amazon.com's homepage)
Today I had a rousing intellectual discussion about the future of the publishing industry in light of ebooks, author self-promotion, and other technology-fueled changes in the world of words. I came away feeling...
- depressed, mostly because I am an old-school purist who thinks technology should be considered guilty until proven innocent, and that ebooks are one of the least appealing inventions of all time (just based on my personal hatred for anything that threatens the printed book)
- excited, because it's fun to discuss the future, even if it's full of "I don't know"s and "what if"s and other scary questions
- privileged, because how many people get to dialogue with other people about something they really care about, something they are passionately invested in, both as a career and as a lifelong obsession?
Borders' bankruptcy - In case you haven't heard, Borders filed today for chapter 11. Soon this once-mammoth corporation will close one-third of its physical bookstores and close up shop indefinitely in order to "restructure" its way back to (hopefully) bare survival in a savage jungle of an industry. It's sad, because 1) I always liked Borders better than Barnes & Noble, 2) Amazon will probably put them both out of business in 15-20 years anyway, and 3) I love books and hate to see any book-based business fail... even if they shot themselves in the foot by not keeping up with the latest trends.
Author self-promotion - Authors are now expected not only to write, but to market themselves and their products, to be endlessly, tirelessly "loud and proud" about their work. It might go without saying (but I'll say it anyway because, well, I'm good at stating the obvious) that this dichotomy rubs most authors the wrong way. Most (not all, but most) writers are not energized by interacting with people but by extended periods of solitude, time to think and sort out their ideas and let the creative juices flow uninterrupted. Do you know how much energy it must take to blog (tell me about it) and tweet and e-blast and book-sign your way to financial success as a writer? Not being a published author, I couldn't answer that, but I'm sure it takes an awful lot of energy... valuable, precious energy that would have gone toward actual writing but instead will be redirected toward telling the world how great you and your writing is (and why everybody and their dog should own a hardcover copy of your latest book—preorder on Amazon now!).
Am I the only one who sees the fundamental problem with this newfangled insistence of publishers that their authors also serve as their own marketers? Frankly, it's insane. Creative types, if you want to call them that, are usually really good at being creative because they tap into something other people don't... because instead of watching TV or going to basketball games or wasting time on Facebook, they sit in a quiet room all alone and organize and compose and ponder and write out all the thoughts and stories strewn about their brains like starry dots in a constellation. How can you expect someone to do all that and then also self-promote the heck out of their authorial "brand"?
Well, it's obvious where I stand on this issue, so we'll leave it at that.
As for the whole Borders fiasco and the future of the publishing/book retail industry as a whole, whatever happens I just hope we don't lose sight of where we have come from, that we continue to read (whether on a screen or in a dusty, dog-earred paperback) the classics... which are classics for a good reason.
To close, a short poem (with apologies to Dr. Seuss):
I do not like these new ebooks
I do not like Kindles or Nooks
I do not like to read on screen
I do not like that glossy sheen
Digital books I will not read
Pulp and ink are all I need