Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Future of Publishing

By: Mary Alice Monroe

What is the future of publishing is a hot topic among all of us involved in the book publishing industry. At recent holiday cocktail parties, the fact on everyone’s lips was how Amazon sold more books on Kindle than they did “regular” books over the Christmas sales season. Anyone connected to publishing can’t help but ponder the future of publishing in light of the rise of the electronic books. While none of us knows with certainty exactly what the book business will look like just a few years from now, each of us has an opinion.

The electronic media reader, such as the Amazon Kindle or the Barnes & Noble Nook, continues to grow in popularity, while bookstores continue to post overall lackluster book sales. People have declared that we’re witnessing the end of publishing as we know it. Others argue that this isn’t true, that we are simply experiencing a shift. They claim that there will always be a demand for traditional books and the sense of community found in bookstores.

The most optimistic argument I’ve heard was from someone high up in the media world who believes this shift will actually increase overall book sales! For example, if you hear from a friend about a good book and it sparks your interest you can buy that book instantly with your electronic reader with the push of a button. If you had to get in the car and drive to the store, you might procrastinate and not buy the book. Hooray for instant gratification!

What concerns me more, as a writer, is how literature might change in light of use of electronic reading devices. Lynn Neary of NPR published a fascinating article last month on this topic titled How E-Books Will Change Reading and Writing. Writer Nicholas Carr was quoted as saying, “Thanks to the Gutenberg Press, you saw this great expansion of eloquence and experimentation” in literature. In contrast though, Carr also said, “the Internet is training us to read in a distracted and disjointed way.”

Also quoted in the article, Time magazine book reviewer Lev Grossman, who stated, ““They scroll and scroll and scroll. You don't have this business of handling pages and turning them and savoring them.” He says that particular function of the e-book leads to a certain kind of reading and writing: "Very forward moving, very fast narrative.””

Grossman believes more purchases will be based on brief excerpts. "It will be incumbent on novelists to hook readers right away," says Grossman. "You won't be allowed to do a kind of tone poem overture, you're going to want to have blood on the wall by the end of the second paragraph. And I think that's something writers will have to adapt to, and the challenge will be to use this powerfully narrative form, this pulpy kind of mode, to say important things."

This change Grossman speaks of won’t happen overnight.

Yet, no matter what changes I, and all writers, must make in the future to accommodate the changing patterns of readership, I remain hopeful. People will always want to read a good story, no matter if they prefer to turn pages or hit the scroll button. As for the conservationist in me, at the very least, I’m happy that the rising use of electronic books will preserve more trees!

Mary Alice Monroe is a NYT Bestselling author. She has written more than a dozen books, including Last Light over Carolina, Time is a River, and The Beach House. Her books have achieved several best seller lists, including SIBA and USA Today. In 2008 Monroe was awarded the SC Center for the Book Award for Fiction. She has served on the faculty of numerous writer's conferences and retreats and is a frequent speaker. Monroe publishes a weekly blog.


JLC said...

From a long perspective as a reader (8 decades), I think you've stated the case perfectly. I might add that printed books may become a little as they once were in the late Middle Ages: items that are evidence of the reader's elite position or wealth. Let's hope even that will further enable literacy and curiosity.

River Jordan said...

Mary Alice,

Thanks for sharing the positive news on Kindle. It seems like a really good year to find the good news and share it.

It may be a new way of doing things to most of us but I have to say, there are many books I hear about and mean to buy and then I forget. This is one way to hit buy, buy, buy and get that book to read that night. Curing up with a reading devise however will take some getting used to. I think they would be awesome for airplanes.

Now - how will get your autograph on that version?


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