Monday, July 20, 2009

Why Publishing Cannot Be Saved (As It Is)

by Richard Eoin Nash

The book business is a tiny industry perched atop a massive hobby. But rather than celebrate and serve the hobbyists, we expect them to shell out ever more money for the books we keep throwing at them (a half million English-language books in 2008 in the U.S.). Cutting back might work for individual companies, but not for an industry — s/he who truly believe that the best thing for our customers is less choice shouldn't let the door hit them on the way out of this industry, indeed this culture.

We've built a massive supply chain system for connecting writers and readers because it suits us, but it clearly doesn't suit most writers or readers. The ones getting their advances cut right now are a small minority of writers (working in any language today); we  should not weep for them, most were overpaid anyway. Instead of using the ever-increasing array of cheap and free tools now available to offer new ways to structure the writer-reader relationship, we're using the technology to either thwart the readers (see: DRM) or to hustle them, using social media to move product, not have a conversation.

The question increasingly arises in today's media: can publishing be saved? No. It cannot and should not. There are plenty of non-profit publishers that exist to create and distribute the un-economic content. For-profit publishing should not be saved — it should figure out new business models, ones that offer services that both readers and writers want and are happy to pay for. We cannot wait for a deus ex machina to descend. (In other words, neither MySpace, nor Twitter, nor price-fixing, nor some new piracy-inducing extension of copyright law will save publishing — we simply need to start doing business better.)

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