Ah, the publishing industry. So large, so vast, such an easy target. Complaining about publishing is so old it’s gone from cool to lame back to cool again. Or is it lame again? I think whoever was keeping track lost count.. IN THE 1940’S.
While catching up on my Shelf Awareness and GalleyCat, I was directed to two separate articles that chide the industry for being behind the times. First up, conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan, who blasts the publishing industry here. Oh, and here. Um, here too.
Among Mr. Sullivan’s complaints (and that of the anonymous readers he quotes): The good old standby……. No one edits anything (I address this myth here). Also they messed up the page numbering on his book, and publishing jobs don’t pay and have uncertain career tracks. He writes, “The publishers do not care what is in their books and neither, by and large, do editors.” (Which must come as some surprise to all of the people who have had their manuscripts rejected by said editors.)
Also joining the fray is Peter Osnos of The Century Foundation, who was chagrined that many New York bookstores did not carry the book he was looking for that day and Amazon was listing the book as being available in two weeks.
I feel compelled to defend the publishing industry because 1) I’m in the publishing industry and 2) because I think the publishing industry is often subjected to some common criticisms that people tend take at face value. Is the publishing industry perfect? No, it is not. Can it be improved? Yes, it can. Will I speak in rhetorical questions for the rest of the day? Read on to find out.
Mr. Sullivan posits that “Soon, print-on-demand may put the publishing houses out of business. It can’t happen soon enough.” I would like to counter-posit that Mr. Sullivan will not likely go the POD route for his next book. Whatever its flaws (and apparently sequential page numbers are not a strong suit) the publishing industry exists because it is the best mechanism for getting good books to readers. And it is really, really good at that. Editors, although worked to the bone, love books and take a great deal of pride in the works they steward. Publishers work very hard to print the correct number of copies. Sure, people make mistakes (they are, last time I checked, human) but it’s easier to find a book, any book, than it ever has been.
Which leads us to Mr. Osnos (Maya Reynolds’s take on the article is here). Maybe it’s because I grew up in Colusa, California, population 4,075, but I never thought that a book should be delivered now. WAYYYYYY back in 1987, my family had to DRIVE thirty miles to the bookstore. And it was just a tiny little B. Dalton with a paltry selection. And the store was filled with three feet of snow and the aisles were all up hill!!
I applaud Mr. Osnos’ attempts to consult with publishers on new methods of distribution, because to me it is physically impossible for even all of the bookstores in Manhattan to carry every book that everyone wants, let alone the bookstores in the vicinity of my rice-farming town. That’s why God invented Amazon, abebooks and eBay. If your bookstore doesn’t have it, the Internet will. Now if only people would just invent a device that will print out any book for you immediately. Oh wait, they have.
Now if only publishing had a device that would beam books directly to my brain. Where is THAT invention, publishing? Huh? Huh? Yeah, that’s what I thought. I bet no one will edit those beamed books too. Publishing is so lame.