Tuesday, February 24, 2009

And we'll promise to spend more time in bars, too

Colin Robinson lays it all out on what I think is the central problem around the rise of web reading vs. the number of available real readers.
Naturally, a guy this on the money just lost his publishing job.

Despite the big numbers (?) for the Kindle, the Sony, the Stanza and the plethora of e-reading devices out there, it's anyones guess if the better mousetrap is upon us.
I think not, but it no longer matters because,
"This privileging of the writer at the expense of the reader is borne out by statistics showing the annual output of new titles in the US soaring towards half a million. At the same time a recent survey revealed that one in four Americans didn’t read a single book last year. Books have become detached from meaningful readerships. Writing itself is the victim in this shift. If anyone can publish, and the number of critical readers is diminishing, is it any wonder that non-writers – pop stars, chefs, sports personalities – are increasingly dominating the bestseller lists?
Perhaps the problem has to do with more than just the way in which words are transmitted. People bowl alone, shop online, abandon cinemas for DVDs, and chat to each other electronically rather than go to a bar. In an increasingly self-centred society a premium is placed on being heard rather than listening, being seen rather than watching, and on being read rather than reading."

This scenario is borne out every day in the shop and has always been part of the landscape.
The amount of self-published stuff out there was extraordinary before print on demand became somewhat price competitive; now it's everywhere. The natural extension, especially when combines with Robinson's contention that our collective narcissism renders reading other people musings redundant when we all have our own book, could mean that prose looks as insular as poetry.
When we've all got a book and book reviews are down to a stump, what does it all mean?
What's the point?
Robinson notes that "an industry that spends all its money on bookseller discounts and very little on finding an audience is getting things the wrong way round."
Time was, that was the booksellers job, and in some purview it still is.
Editors make the book a tighter and better read, publicists will do the best they can to cut through the white noise of everything else out there, but for books deserving of an audience; something other than the sports star-celebrity chef-rehab casualty etc., a humble gatekeeper is going to have to be there.
It will be interesting to see what shape that gatekeeper takes.
For now, maybe the smart money stays with this guy, but we'll do it for less.

Posted by Dave

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