Writing, books and the future of reading - Part 2 of a long essay
(part one appears under category of the same name to the left of this post)
The Internet and other new technologies will have far deeper and broader effects than simply enabling the broad availability of books in online bookstores.
Disruptive technologies will change the way books are created, marketed and consumed. Widespread availability of information will change the way we interact with information and each other. Some of them include:
Digital Printing – on demand and short run create a new production and consumption system – which I call “publish global print local” and that can also be described as “any book any time.” Furthermore, you (as writer or reader) are now able to create any book you might want to design for yourself from a menu of book components and at any time you want them: i.e., the ability to “make your own book”
This enables a new concept of community based books – where there is interactivity between authors and readers, thus engendering changes in the definition of who has authorial voice and who is the consumer. Then where does a publisher or editor fit in to this process - there is no doubt that the flood of unedited, unprocessed thoughts and ideas cries out for the editorial hand. But in a new book economy, how and by whom this critical function is performed and perhaps more importantly, paid for, is yet to be determined.
Digital technology and electronic books – we are at the cusp of significant changes in technology that will alter the way books are conceived and distributed for millions of readers. It is just a matter of time. Until the Ipod and Itunes came into being as if delivered from on high (no, just Steve Jobs at work) no one had solved or could solve the riddle of digital music. At some point in the very near future, some one (not likely to be a company we know today) will deliver the perfect device with an equally compelling distribution platform, and the world will be forever changed. It does not matter how soon this will occur, although it will be sooner rather than later. When it does, the traditional print book business will be in disarray, and the publishing landscape will never be the same. Readers who want traditional books in traditional containers will always be able to get them (even so - we have printed so many books in the past twenty years that we could stop printing books tomorrow and no living reader would run out of great books to read between printed covers!).
Once the definitive and truly “e”-book does arrive, millions of us will want one, and millions of us will be happy to make the switch from reading books in traditional bound books made of expensive paper to reading in purely digital forms. Or we may simply be driven to it by the new economics of a carbon neutral economy. Our brave new electronic world awaits.
Report from New York Comicon
I wrote about the show, primarily focusing on what it meant for book publishers; the piece below appeard in Publishers Lunch, March 5, 2007:
By all accounts Reed’s second New York Comicon was a big success. While they have not yet provided official statistics, the rough numbers indicate three-day attendance of approximately 40,000 people. That total includes about 4,000 registered trade visitors and exhibitors–among them 600 comic book retailers, 500 booksellers, andmore than 500 librarians.
Of course Comicon is primarily a consumer show (the floor was trade only on the first day, Friday until 4 pm)–something traditional comics players know well, but is relatively uncharted territory for book publishers. The aisles were packed with fans of all types and ages, wandering the show floor and participating in all the related and decidedly non-book activities (signings with comic artists and writers, video game demonstrations, and Dungeons and Dragons style board gaming, for example).
Book publishers exhibiting included Scholastic, HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin, Roaring Brook’s .01 Second, Hachette (trade books as well as their new Yen imprint), various imprints of Random House [Ballantine, Pantheon, Del Rey and others], Continuum, Simon & Schuster, Watson Guptill and Abrams. Which means that there were some notable publishers not in attendance, and certainly no book distributors other than Diamond were to be seen.
All the publishers I interviewed were enthusiastic about the show, and seemed ready and able to interact with the throngs of people that crowded the aisles. We saw lots of books being handled, some being given away and quite a few being sold. But not every book publisher seemed to understand the difference between a trade show and a consumer show, and they will need to rethink their approach to the show in light of the energy demonstrated by so many of the comics and graphic novel publishers.
Most publisher booths did not seem designed with the kinds of fans that come to Comicon in mind. One booth we visited had no publisher representative for a considerable amount of time, leaving only a lonely but talkative author to draw people out of the crowds. Too many booths that felt like BEA, not Comicon.
It was clear that the comics publishers themselves, with much deeper roots in this market, appear to be more comfortable with their consumer base and know far better how to handle themselves at a consumer show. Many of the large and small comics publisher spaces were packed continuously, most notably Tokyopop, Viz, Dark Horse, Oni, Marvel and Vertigo.
Still, the presence of traditional book publishers and their growing commitment to comics publishing, graphic novels and pop culture was evident and clearly made an impact. The audience for comics and video games is a broad pop culture universe that book publishers need to understand and actively engage. Interacting with the people who make up this market as individuals is a remarkable opportunity for publishers of all kinds. The continuing growth of NY Comicon makes a great testing ground right in the backyard of many publishers to meet this enthusiastic consumer base and gain new consumer marketing skills to further engage with this lively (and crucial) market.
Posted by David Wilk on 03/09 at 11:03 PM
Publishing and business in general