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Old School Publishers Face the Rise of New Publishing

January 26, 2009

Sony ReaderMy friend, Stephen Linn, over at CMT, just sent me an article about publishing from Time Magazine.  For old school publishers, it paints a scary landscape.  I’ve excerpted three paragraphs below, but you should go to Time for the meat of  the article.  

A lot of headlines and blogs to the contrary, publishing isn’t dying. But it is evolving, and so radically that we may hardly recognize it when it’s done. Literature interprets the world, but it’s also shaped by that world, and we’re living through one of the greatest economic and technological transformations since–well, since the early 18th century. The novel won’t stay the same: it has always been exquisitely sensitive to newness, hence the name. It’s about to renew itself again, into something cheaper, wilder, trashier, more democratic and more deliriously fertile than ever….

Put these pieces together, and the picture begins to resolve itself: more books, written and read by more people, often for little or no money, circulating in a wild diversity of forms, both physical and electronic, far outside the charmed circle of New York City’s entrenched publishing culture. Old Publishing is stately, quality-controlled and relatively expensive. New Publishing is cheap, promiscuous and unconstrained by paper, money or institutional taste. If Old Publishing is, say, a tidy, well-maintained orchard, New Publishing is a riotous jungle: vast and trackless and chaotic, full of exquisite orchids and undiscovered treasures and a hell of a lot of noxious weeds.

Not that Old Publishing will disappear–for now, at least, it’s certainly the best way for authors to get the money and status they need to survive–but it will live on in a radically altered, symbiotic form as the small, pointy peak of a mighty pyramid. If readers want to pay for the old-school premium package, they can get their literature the old-fashioned way: carefully selected and edited, and presented in a bespoke, art-directed paper package. But below that there will be a vast continuum of other options: quickie print-on-demand editions and electronic editions for digital devices, with a corresponding hierarchy of professional and amateur editorial selectiveness. (Unpaid amateur editors have already hit the world of fan fiction, where they’re called beta readers.) The wide bottom of the pyramid will consist of a vast loamy layer of free, unedited, Web-only fiction, rated and ranked YouTube-style by the anonymous reading masses.

[NOTE:  Take TIME’s reference to the NEA report that reading has turned around with a grain of salt.  Just two years ago, the NEA reported that reading was tanking at apocalyptic levels.  And now the NEA and its out-going president are taking credit for reading’s impressive turnaround.  I’m skeptical to say the least.]


© David P. Leach and Consequential Value, 2008

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 26, 2009 3:47 pm

    The layoffs of 2008 by the Big Time publishers was a hard it. Hopefully in 2009 and beyond things will improve. One thing is for certain though, people have been writing and reading since the beginning of time and it will continue ever more…

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