Nathan Bransford, Author

Monday, June 4, 2007

The Future is Coming... at some point

This past Saturday night I went to the Greek Theatre in Berkeley to watch The Arcade Fire, and let me tell you, those crazy Canadians can sure put on a good show! In case you haven't heard of the Arcade and the Fire that occurred there, they are a sort of orchestral indie rock band that exploded onto the scene with their debut album and then solidified their standing with the follow-up. If they come your way, I highly recommend that you check them out.

Anyway, BEA is over, and this just in from the participants: it was hot. Really hot.

Also at BEA: publishers, authors and booksellers wondering how new technology and our new robot overlords will affect the world of books. The New York Times, of course, was all over this.

From Camp "I love the taste of chrome in the morning" you have Chris Anderson, who is contemplating releasing his new book for free online (the book is conveniently titled FREE), only it will have advertisements inside. And from Camp "Die you robot scum" you have.... well, no one was willing to denigrate our robot overlords on the record for fear of retribution, but the Times article quotes some people who express a sense of inevitability and mild fear about the coming changes.

Now personally, although I joke about the publishing industry's reluctance to embrace certain mind-boggling new technologies such as, uh, e-mailed query letters, I feel that the publishing industry often gets a bad rap for being left behind in a world of new technologies. To my eye, this isn't the case. Publishers are investing lots of cold hard cash in new technology-based publishing initiatives to be ready for changes in the marketplace, but so far... things haven't changed all that much. Sure, you have more online marketing, Internet piracy is becoming more of a problem, Amazon and other online vendors loom large, independents are struggling from competition from chains and the Internet, but the vast majority of books are still bought in stores, are published by the same publishers, are printed in paper and ink.... etc.

So the next time you see the publishing industry criticized for being unreceptive to technological change, or the next time you hear someone talk about a coming massive change in publishing that the industry is catastrophically unprepared for, think about how little has actually changed in the last 10 years. Sure, things are going to continue to evolve, and it's possible that I'll see something like a digital revolution during my publishing lifetime, but until people decide that they want to read on PDAs and screens than hold a book in their hands, things will continue to stay relatively the same.

It's not that publishing is behind the technological curve. The industry is just giving people what they want.


Scott said...

Dewd, the future is so yesterday. Retro is tomorrow's today.

I just made myself dizzy. I'd better go sit down...

Anonymous said...

I have a quick question - that really doesn't have anything to do with this but - I sent a query and forgot to put "query" in the subject line or something like that so it's blank. Could my query be rejected without being read because of it?

Don said...

I can think of two key ways in which buying books (and CDs) has changed for me in the last 20 years (I'm old, I can take a longer view):

1. I pay more attention to price, which is really absurd in that I have more disposible income now than I did 20 years ago. I blame amazon for this. 20 years ago, a book cost what it cost (likewise for music). If I saw a book I wanted and it wasn't ridiculously expensive (like that first edition of The Name of Action with dust jacket I saw at a book fair in L.A. for $900), I bought it at whatever price was being asked for it. Now, I'm reluctant to buy something from Borders unless I have a minimum of a 30% off coupon. It's kind of perverse and I really want to try to make a point of picking stuff up at full price from indie shops.

2. I can get just about any book I want, right now. This one is huge. I visited easily 200 bookstores in the US, Canada and UK looking for a copy of Recusant Poets from 1988 through 1998. I photocopied the entirety of the copy at the university library. Then in ten minutes, at, I was able to locate and order a copy. For new books, it's even easier. I just go to amazon and type in the name of the book and place my order. In the course of my search, I did come to realize that the same 1000 or so titles were on the shelves of EVERY new book store (which was part of why I went through a long period where I never bought books from a new book store). For titles which don't make that list of 1000 titles, the ability to be found via the internet is huge.

Heidi the Hick said...

You know, I spend enough time looking at a glowing screen. Way too much. I want books, not screens. I want to feel the weight of it in my hands and read it without needing electricity.

And I buy them everywhere. Online, big stores like Chapters, and whenever possible, my favourite little independent bookseller. Sometimes I even buy them used and I've been known to accept giveaways from people who have the sense to scale the bookshelf down every couple of years...

Heidi the Hick said...

Sorry, there was a point to that:

I agree, the industry is giving us what we want. We want books!

Annalee said...

it's just that books have that lovely book-smell.

Personally, a book being available for free online does nothing for the likelihood that I'll read it. A first chapter or excerpt, maybe, but the e-books I do own are just languishing on my hard drive pending my acquisition of a print copy (and printing one myself would be more expensive than dropping a tenner on the paperback).

Until they come up with something like the digital paper from Firefly (and elsewhere), I'm sticking to print. I get migraines frequently enough without finding new and creative ways to stare into light sources, thanks.

Writers' Support and Inspiration said...

I adore paper books, always have and always will. But I also read an inordinate number of books on my Palm handheld. Always with me, doesn't get heavier when there are more books in it... I love it.

But there are most definitely down sides to electronic books. For me right now, the primary one is price. I frequently see ebooks that are more expensive than the paper versions. Um, what? Close to the same, maybe, although I think cheaper makes more sense. But more?

For most people, the down side is, as some of the commenters have said, we spend enough time staring at screens these days.

It may change, but it'll be slow. (What? The publishing industry moving slowly? Shock. :)


MelodyO said...

The Arcade Fire! They're great, aren't they? It warms my Canadian heart that you mentioned them. "Keep the Car Running" is absolutely mesmerizing...although the lyrics are a little bit unsettling for such a catchy tune. I'm not sure what's after him, but I'd keep the car running too.

Louise said...

Hi Nathan,
I love Arcade Fire as well. They kicked ass here "at home" (Montreal) in May. I must have been the only person over 40 jumping up and down like a 20something! Hope the sound system glitches were smoothed out by the time they hit Berkeley.

The Bims said...

I think the key for authors isn't so much about adopting new technology to present books (online, audio etc.). It's about learning new ways to market those books through the new technologies available and proliferating today. The future in terms of marketing is less "mass" and more "niche," making models like MySpace, blogs, and podcasting so interesting (and potentially lucrative from a book marketing standpoint).

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