Merry Christmas, Publishers

I wasn’t going to blog on Novelr until the redesign was complete, but recent unhappy events in the publishing industry turned out to be too big for even this non-conventional litblog to ignore.

The outpouring of negativity and anger, of grief and beard-pulling the past two weeks, and over ‘Black Wednesday’, have been pretty depressing to read at best. Bookstore chains suffered: Borders, for instance, posted losses of $175.4 million, or $2.90 per share, compared with $161.1 million, or $2.74 per share in the same quarter of last year. There have been too many reports of the various layoffs and troubles plaguing agencies and publishers; one article has a byline that reads, almost gleefully, “The economic news couldn’t be worse for the book industry. Now insiders are asking how literature will survive.”

I’m not going to comment on ‘Black Wednesday’ itself, because writers greater than me have blogged and dissected and given us their collective takes on what this means for culture, for writers, and for the reading public in general (in a nutshell: culture will survive, writers will write, and the reading public will be able to find whatever book they want in bookstores because nothing has been sold out). I prefer to talk about the changes the publishing industry are taking to deal with their problems. The good news? They’re turning to the Internet.

There seems to be growing evidence that publishers are moving, and moving with focused intent, onto the web. There are no guarantees, and there certainly aren’t any solid business models for them to latch onto, but God they’re trying. Let me toss you a personal example: sometime in the middle of this year Tor launched a supersite. I was studying for exams at the moment, and I had a short break. So I checked it out.

I absolutely loved it. I spent about 3 hours on the site, reading all the fantastic short stories and checking out the related ‘how we wrote and produced the original art that went along with that’ blog articles and the forum posts and the author-reader interaction. You see, Tor got a whole bunch of heavyweight writers in their stable and somehow got them active in the community section of the site, along with the short stories and the original art. My favourite is Steven Gould’s Shade, a short story set in the Jumper universe he created.

There are many more examples: Harper Collins recently announced that they’d be putting ebooks into the Nintendo DS; Penguin USA have released Penguin 2.0 (which are a collection of book-related apps to computers and (get this) mobile phones), plus Macmillian (click that link, it leads to Macmillian’s digital lit branch; totally cool) are pushing for their Stanza reader for the iPhone. And on an off-note: an independent designer has packaged The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the (copyright-free) short story behind the upcoming movie, as an iPhone app, for $0.99.

I’m pretty certain that all this movement is good news for the Blooking community. There might be overcrowding, and jostling, where before we had the whole net to ourselves, but I suppose that comes with the turf. A rising tide raises all ships, independent producers included. And while the recession may suck for the time being, I’d like to point out, with cautious optimism, that sometimes the worst of times provide the most unbelievable of opportunities.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

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Category: News · Publishing