Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Future of Publishing

Not very long ago I had the pleasure of presenting at the Dahlonaga Book Festival. One of the panels featured myself, Catherine Coulter, and a bevy of other talented authors. We were asked to share our thoughts on the future of publishing. As none of us have crystal balls, we surmised to the very best of our abilities our thoughts on what the future of publishing might hold.

As I consider the advanced me of technologies in just the last few years, the hushed anticipation of the new Apple reader tablet, the Kindle’s and Sony Readers, the new Droid, Apple, Google phones and so on – to touch the hem of the future of publ
ishing is beyond most of us. Except for this fact – writers have great imaginations. If we apply that portion of our minds to this riddle and not our logic over our last royalty statement, or the daily reports on how many bookstores are downsizing or closing, or how many mergers are now making publishing houses as confusing a conglomerate as our national government – then I think the pictures we’ll get are a little more true to the fullness of possibility.

What do I see? Technology becoming so integrated into our lives that reading something not presented through an electronic, super-sonic, magnetic, magical airwave Internet source will seem archaic to all but the antiquities collector. Oh, gasp if we must but just think how many years ago we didn’t even have cell phones or email and now how do we function in this business without them today?

Personally – I love hardback books of quality with paper that has been hand selected an
d where every element of creative design went into telling that story in the printing and publishing process. I understand how valuable this experience is. I understand the poetic romance of a great bookstore with a little bell that rings when I push open the door and lose myself in the most exotic, glamorous selections made by someone who owns that store and owns it because they are hooked beyond reason on this thing that love called books. But no matter how much I value these experiences, as I lay in front of the fire last night considering this blog and my words, I realized the truth as I know it, my concept of publishing, is already history.

I closed my eyes and thought about publishing ten years from now. Then twenty. Then fifty and beyond. I only made it as far as one hundred years. That’s when I realized that I am the antiquity. That someday, these precious hardback, signed first editions that I possess will be collectors items. (For this reason I am willing them to my grandchildren and buying as many as possible to add to their collection.) The second part of my understanding is that ultimately, it’s okay. The future comes toward us everyday bringing new challenges and answers. We are on the cusp of some of the most astounding developments and changes that writers or readers have ever seen.

Perhaps in the not too distant future, a great-grandchild of mine will open a book simply by pressing a button on their personal electronic device and in their very hands the 'page' of a book will appear – no Kindle or Apple reader needed. Perhaps – like pop-up books of old, portions of those books will become three dimensional and be acted out in 3d movie fashion right there on their desktop. Perhaps – the reader will wear virtual glasses to allow them to enter and move freely about in the world of the author’s creation. Who knows where the wings of time will ultimately take us.

All that aside, here is the most important thing to me. Even if I die with the knowledge that the books of our present are also a thing of our past, I will also know that writers will continue to be born into this world. The very art of storytelling
will never die. It’s as much a part of our spiritual DNA as, “Let there be light.” We were created as part of a great, eternal story that is everlasting. And we were created to create. To tell the story of being human, of what it was like to live and laugh, to love and lose, to love again, to be born and die. In this great universe there cannot be a human race without writers and storytellers, the chroniclers of this wild adventure, this wonderful, bittersweet journey. What would be the point if someone didn't do the tellin'? From cave pictures to stories around the fire, those told on southern summer porches, and in the boardrooms up there in New York City - the tellin' continues. It always will.

The future of publishing? It lies just out out of my reach beyond my lifetime. But the future of storytelling? Oh, trust me - its in great hands.

River Jordan

" Kirkus Reviews described, The Messenger of Magnolia Street, as "a beautifully written atmospheric tale." It was applauded as "a tale of wonder" by Southern Living, who chose the novel as their Selects feature for March 2006, and described by other reviewers as " a riveting, magical mystery" and "a remarkable book."Her third novel, Saints In Limbo, was reviewed as a Southern Gothic Masterpiece by Paste Magazine.
Ms. Jordan teaches and speaks around the country on "The Passion of Story", and produces and hosts River Jordan Live radio program on WRFN, Nashville. River lives with her husband Owen Hicks, and their Great Pyrennees lap dog, Titan in Nashville, Tennessee. She thinks about where stories come from - places and people and moods of the heart while rocking on her front porch. And long after the sun sets over the ridge, she waits for the moon to rise, watches the stars come out, and stares off into the blue-night sky believing with all her might.


Lou said...

A wistfully positive perspective that was eloquently written. As an avid reader since a young age, who is now 48, I share much the same feelings about books. Last year I was given a Kindle for my birthday and surprisingly fell in love with it. While I will always have a sentimental attachment to actual books, I am also excited about the possibilities technology can bring to the reading experience.

Glenda Council Beall said...

So beautifully expressed and I have to agree. While many of us dig our heels in against the new technology of publishing, it is coming as surely as the sun rises tomorrow morning, and those who ignore it will be left behind. But,oh, how I love "real" books.I applaud your collecting first editions for your children and grandchildren.

Kathleen Thompson said...

Glad to read the comments of a fellow panel participant! See you soon in Birmingham, River.

River Jordan said...

Kathleen it was a pleasure to be there with you. I meant to backtrack and add all the names as I was trying to make the deadline and edit radio show at same time. Forgive me. It was great to be there with you and also Philip Lee Williams, Steve Savage, Raymond Atkins, William Rawlings Jr, Jackie Cooper, and more. Those were all great and thought provoking panels. See you in Birmingham soon!

Lou - I think having a Kindle would be wonderful. Or at least I'd love to have one and decide if I liked it. Can you rent one of those? ALso the Apple device is getting a lot of attention of course before the launch. Glenda thanks for reading. We are really the bridge generation I think between what was and what will be. And Yes, time to hoard the hardbacks!

Susan Cushman said...

ahhh the future of STORYTELLING. The part we writers have some control over. It's really like all of human behavior--we can only control our own. So, with our writing, we are in charge of striving to write beautiful sentences, paragraphs, stories, and books. What others do with them is not as important as our undying love of the craft. Thanks for this great post, River!

Susan Gregg Gilmore said...

I agree. Storytelling will always be part of the human journey -- only how we record it will change.

River Jordan said...

Susan and Susan Greg Gilmore - you are both great storytellers and I know you agree that the magic, power, and purpose of storytelling will never die. Thanks for stopping by!