September 19, 2008
Is This Heaven? No . . .
“You want to see what happens to books after they go to book heaven?” she asks. On the screen of her MacBook, a giant steel shredder disgorges a ragged mess of paper and cardboard onto a conveyor belt. This is the fate of up to 25 percent of the product churned out by New York’s publishing machine.
That's a peek into a recent staff meeting at Harper Studio in New York, profiled in New York magazine recently, and a chilling vison of a world in which a laptop computer can be called a Mac "Book" and a twelve-year-old's suggestion for revitalizing the book publishing industry is to "turn all the books into movies so nobody has to waste their time."
You think that's gloomy? Check out this candid observation:
Nobody knows where the readers are, or how to connect with them. Fifteen years ago, Philip Roth guessed there were at most 120,000 serious American readers—those who read every night—and that the number was dropping by half every decade.
Meanwhile, the sales landscape is changing dramatically, not the least of which (though perhaps the most surreptitious of which) is the positioning going on at Amazon:
Editors and retailers alike fear that it’s bent on building a vertical publishing business—from acquisition to your doorstep—with not a single middleman in sight. No HarperCollins, no Borders, no printing press. . . . The ultimate fear is that the Kindle could be a Trojan horse.
No HarperCollins, presumably, means no InterVarsity Press--not because we are like them but because compared to a corporate behemoth like Amazon we are a teeny weeny grasshopper. That's OK though, because--if I may mix my metaphors--that makes us the underdog, and as the author of the New York article suggests, "the industry's long-term survival" depends on "people who think like underdogs.”
Thanks to a fellow underdog, NavPress editor Caleb Seeling, for turning me on to this article.