Welcome to The CITE -- a blog on Course materials, Innovation, and Technology in Education, created by Mark Nelson and now part of the Publications Department of the National Association of College Stores. CITE is a pun with multiple meanings - referring to cite as in citation, something people reference; site as in location, website, or place people go to; and sight as in foresight or looking ahead to what is coming. Comments, discussion, feedback and ideas are welcome.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The End of Books...

A totally engrossing article appeared last week in New York Magazine. The article was entitled simply, "The End," and discussed changes underway in the book publishing business. The opening of the article was fascinating, though. It began with a recent visit to a new startup within HarperCollins. Here is a short excerpt:
But first, a horror story. Debbie Stier, Miller’s No. 2 at HarperStudio (as this little imprint is called), has been collecting videos for their blog. “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. Everyone’s eyes widen, as though watching some viral YouTube gross-out. “It’s like Wall-E,” says marketing director Sarah Burningham. “It’s depressing,” Miller adds. They had sent in a flip camera with a warehouse worker. “You can see our books go through there,” says Stier. "The Crichton, the Ann Patchett.”

I would love to see that video. I tried to find a link to their blog, but was not successful in the few minutes I had this morning. The greatest or perhaps saddest quote comes from Stier's 12-year old son, when asked for birght ideas to save publishing he comments: “So maybe you have to turn all the books into movies so nobody has to waste their time.”

The article is quite long, but has some fascinating history, alongside some contemporary challenges and discussions. Midpoint in the article is an interesting discussion of how "traditional marketing is useless" that has some good lessons, or at least items to ponder. There is also some interesting analysis and insight into how Amazon works with the publishers, and what that might mean for both publishers and bookstores. Some quotes near the end could easily be modified to fit the bookstore industry. It allowed the article to end with a start as engrossing as the beginning:
But going back in time isn’t an option. A hundred Bennett Cerfs wouldn’t save the current publishing model—not without a hundred Bob Millers puzzling out the way forward, unhampered by fear or complacency. The kind of targeted, curated lists editors would love to publish will work even better in an electronic, niche-driven world, if only the innovators can get them there. Those owners who are genuinely interested in the industry’s long-term survival would do well to hire scrappy entrepreneurs at every level, people who think like underdogs.

It’ll be rough going in the meantime; some publishers will transform, some will muddle through, some will die. And there will, no doubt, be a lot of editors for whom even this diminished era will look like the last great golden age, when some writers were paid in the millions, some of their books produced in the millions, and more than half of those books actually sold. Book publishing is still a big-league business, and that’s a hard thing to let go of. “There’s something terrible,” says an editor at a prestigious imprint, “about admitting that you’re not a mass medium.”

Wow. It is like looking in a mirror and not liking what one sees, but being too engrossed to turn away. I thought the article provided a good read and some things to think about -- which is what all good reading should do.

1 comment:

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