Our pal Faux Smoke writes, “What's your take on all this e-reader/e-book business of late? Think it'll be the item that saves an industry, or just is all of this just a marketing tactic?" (Click here for a really dumb puff piece on the Kindle.)
My reply has to be that I don’t believe that the Kindle or any similar device will save book, newspaper, and magazine publishing as so many desperately hope. The e-book has never caught the public imagination and I feel it’s highly unlikely this will be changed, even by more evolved user-friendly hardware. The truth is that books have a special affinity for those who read them. They not only have a total functionality, but a unique warmth -- a smell even -- that cannot be replaced by a machine. A book also fills the very important need for collectable objects that reflect the owner’s tastes, ideas, and personality. In the necessary brevity of a blog, I can’t reason the case at the maybe needed length. All I can say is look to the rise of vinyl audio in the age the mp3 by way of a model.
Much of the problem in book publishing is rooted in the cowardice and stupidity that has increasingly gripped the mass publishing industry. Hundreds of viable authors have been dropped, while multi-million dollar advances were handed out to literary nonentities like Sarah’s Silverman and Palin (and OJ bloody Simpson.) The corporate thrust has been to sell books to the illiterate, avoiding the real truth that mass publishing (with the exception of the occasional big score like Harry Potter) is mutating into a highly plural, boutique business. Major publishers have also traditionally been the bankers of literature, who provide the capital so authors can write the books and -- like the actual banks -- they are now failing in that function.
Newspapers and magazines are also suffering from their own management failures, despite how much they bleat about being ruined by the internet. They have a huge internet readership but are unable to create a business model that can capitalize on it. They have done nothing to address the almost total loss of revenue from classified advertising caused by Craig’s List, and, worst of all, they have failed to cater to their loyal core of readers by dumbing down content, reducing it to sound-bite sized idiocy, and failing to recognize that city-centric papers are rapidly becoming a thing of the past. They cut the pay of the trivial, but lay off the profound.
I could go on for pages about all this, especially how I grieve for the destruction of the alternative press that I help to create forty-some years ago. Just take this as a first salvo to which we will have to return.
Faux Smoke ends his letter – “Hope for a sequel in the Renquist quartet sooner than later? Sooner? Please say the word is good... or tell me who I need to start sending death threats to.” My answer is that the word is currently not good. Another freak LA heat wave makes it hard to be an optimist and, as I sweat, I wonder if I am unemployable, if I’ll even survive. But, damn it, I continue to write. I’ll work on a list of worthy candidates for death threats.
The secret word is Evolution