Don't Fear the Reaper - The Book Business is Fine

Howdy, folks! Hope the weekend was good to you, and that the new week is off to a roaring start. A few odds and ins before I get down to business …

First, I'd like to welcome all of the new followers, especially the Blog Crusader folks. I've had so much fun reading all of your blogs, and we're only 1 week into the actual event! Only great things to come, I'm sure. I'll also say 'hey' to the followers who've joined me via Twitter. A couple of weeks into the Twitter experiment, and I'm already glad I did it.

Second, in response to my previous post (Crusade Challenge #1), I'll now reveal my “secret” or lie. E.J. Wesley is a pen name. I can't actually say it isn't my REAL name, because it kind of is—just rearranged a bit. At any rate, I'll say congrats to Jess for guessing it. I hear Sir Holmes is looking for a new Watson, Jess, so you might want to put in your application! :0) Now to the post.

Don't fear the reaper - The book business is fine


Publishing industry news hits fast and hard nowadays. It seems there are daily declarations of drastic sweeping changes to the book business, and I'm not even talking about the prognosticating going on with regards to eBooks. No, most of the news isn't simply bombastic “wolf!” crying. There are hard indications that trouble isn't just a'brewing, it's spilled over onto the stove top and is now making a hell of a mess. Bookstores closing, publishers downsizing, authors struggling with escalating expectations and diminishing support—we've read and heard it all.

Interestingly enough, the latest addition to the bad news pot seems to be the one causing the most stir. The blogs and FaceTweet were alive with outrage and despair over the announcement that mega-bookstore chain, Borders, was declaring bankruptcy. Frankly, I think it jostled so many people because it was the first really tangible indication that change was no longer something to prepare for, but something that would have to be endured. Borders closed enough stores in the initial cut that many people lost their neighborhood bookstore. People they knew lost their jobs. Book clubs lost their hangout spot. Authors lost some longtime supporters of their work. Simply put, it gave a face to the problem.

What's to blame? Lots of things, some of them self-inflicted, some not. As much as anything, I think publishing is a victim of the times. The merciless hunter, also known as the struggling world economy, is taking down the vulnerable businesses in the herd. Only the extremely fit are surviving the culling, and sadly the publishing industry has been limping along for quite some time. It hasn't aged gracefully, and the years of navigating a harsh landscape have left it struggling to keep up with the times. Now it looks like the book business has been singled out from the group, primed for an easy kill.

Before you change the channel to avoid the kiddos seeing the brutality, you should know there might be hope for the 'old buffalo' yet. She's still got some fight in her, if she can only find her focus. 

For writers and readers the news has been bleak; however, I have a theory that may assuage our fears. My theory is simple: At its core, the publishing industry is about reading and writing. All the other 'stuff' that comes along with it—like paper, coffee, electronic gadgets, big dollar advances, and a comfy chair—are extraneous.  If I believe that (which I do, with all of my nerd heart), I can safely say the book business is in great, if a little unsettled, shape.

Books, or more specifically the written words they contain, readers, and authors aren't going anywhere. Ever. It's a form of creative expression, and it's a part of our DNA. Cavemen (and women) doodled on--well, caves--and musical instruments have been found with the earliest civilizations. The human need to communicate, create and express is perhaps only a step below food and shelter on the life scale. We're not losing language (although texting and the Twitter may have something to say about that), so writing and reading are safe.

How we produce and consume the writing, however, is changing. Paper books, no matter how fondly we may perceive them, are a medium. A vehicle, if you will.  First and foremost, they serve a function, and that function is to disseminate an idea or story with words. They used to write on stone tablets. The medium evolved. It's evolving again, simple as that.   


Hey Barnes & Noble, I think we're going to need more cowbell ...

Are bookstores doomed? Possibly. If they can't figure out a way to facilitate reading and writing by offering something other than paper books, sadly they may have to go away. (Incidentally, publishers are at a similar crossroads.) Businesses involved with the industry must examine how they can support readers and authors. That's it. If you can add to the experience, fine, but make damn sure you're handling the prime directive as best as it can be handled. 

Again, strip it all down to reading and writing and I believe the problem will self-correct. In the end, authors will write and readers will read. If you can let go of the other 'stuff', I think you'll sleep well tonight.

~EJW~

28 comments:

  1. This is a thought-provoking post, E.J. I have to agree with you. I'm sentimentally attached to reading books as I know them, but in preparing a talk I have to give at the NYRSA conference in April about engaging kids in reading and writing, I find I'm saying exactly what you are. How they read isn't as important as that they read, and if we're going to insist on traditional books we're going to get left behind and miss an opportunity. That said, I hope there will always be a place for real picture books, so that we can sit with our children in our laps and share wonderful stories in a medium that engages them as electronics can't in the same way. And I hope there will be a way to save bookstores - I would really miss them!

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  2. Yes! I 99% agree. That 1% comes from writers possibly having to write animated scenes into their works one day for the iPad and etc.

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  3. more cowbell...lol.

    I think it is all my fault. I wash my car, and it rains. I start writing, and everything goes crazy.

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  4. @ Susanna: There is something very 'tactile' and interactive about turning the page of a book. I think picture books may need to be excluded to some degree from this type of conversation. Great point!

    @ Cuppa: I think there is a place for multimedia experiences, but it certainly won't apply to all types of writing. Some people will always want a story left strictly to their imaginations.

    @ Diana: Ha! I think it's an exciting time to be a writer. We're rapidly reaching a point where our potential is only going to be limited by our desire, ability, and creativity. That's something that I'm not sure has always applied in the 'author' world--a quality of true self-determination, if you will.

    Thanks all for stopping by!

    EJW

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  5. They're closing one of our local bookstores and the folks are not too happy.
    Great stuff, E.J.

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  6. Borders going bankrupt shouldn't have surprised anyone. It's like when department stores like Montgomery Ward went out of business. What did they really do better than the competition?

    That's capitalism, baby.

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  7. what happened to Borders is sad, but like you said, it's all evolving.
    Sun Tzu says: "Without conflict there can be no growth." This is just a minor conflict that we must grow past.

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  8. Thanks for the post, EJ (or whatever your real name is). Change or be trampled will become the new motto.

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  9. Good Morning E.J. Thank you much for the info. Great stuff, as usual.

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  10. I've been having the same thoughts. Geniuses think alike. :-)
    Words and stories don't go out of style. Just their mode of getting to the reader from the writer does.

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  11. Very well said.

    I have an award for you at my blog.

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  12. @ Lois: We should start our own 'Genius Colony'! Only allowing folks that think like us, of course ... :0)

    @ Alison: Thanks! I'm going to have to get better at this award getting/giving stuff. (I'm really AWFUL at it.) Thanks for the love and the link.

    EJW

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  13. Nice to know your secret.

    Everything evolves, and it's nice to take a look at how things are changing. One thing that doesn't change is our need to write, to dream, and to share stories. How we take that them in, is our own choices.

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  14. I agree with you that we're not necessarily in a downward spiral with the publishing industry so much as a shift sideways. I don't think eBooks are the death knell, but I do think eCommerce is pushing things around. I tend to buy mostly paper books...but I buy them on Amazon.

    And you guessed right...we do not have a rabbit. =)

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  15. Well said. Nice to meet you. I am writing. I hope the independent bookstore finds a way back.
    Nancy
    N. R. Williams, The Treasures of Carmelidrium

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  16. I saw an illustrator speak and when he addressed the issue he compared it to the music industry, who adapts ever 10-15 years, while publishing has been on the same kick for 500. it will be more brutal, but in the end it will all balance back out.

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  17. Ha! I had a feeling that was the lie! Interesting!!!

    This is a great post, "E.J.", and really hopeful too. Maybe seeing Borders close down is just more of a shift in how we acquire our books, and while that is sad, it doesn't mean that we've stopped writing/reading.

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  18. Hey E.J. I think E pubbing is a lot like synthesizer keyboards were in the 80s. They saturated the airwaves and are still here, but nothing has replaced live music. And with many books, nothing will replace paper.

    Dave

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  19. I'll bet readers had trouble giving up cave scrawls, stone tablets and scrolls, too.

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  20. I totally should get myself a pen name. But...I would feel weird about it ;)

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  21. Good post!

    It's sad that all this is happening now, but it needs to happen before the industry can pull itself up by the bootstraps.

    :-)

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  22. Well said E.J. The world changes as technology changes. Who knows what the smart phone will do to the computer years from now. I think the problem is when tech. goes to fast and there is no time to keep up. Companies need to be quick to adapt or drown.
    Ps left you a blogger award on my blog :)

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  23. It is sad that Borders is closing its doors and that so many people think that books are up in the air. I feel as long as someone writes them, someone is going to read them, no matter the format.

    I support all formats right now and will continue as long as possible. Great post.

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  24. This whole post was great, but ending with the cow bell clip? Genius. I love that skit ("I got a fever, and the only prescription is..."). Christopher Walken is the man. Will F. is pretty stinking funny too. Glad I guessed your lie--your real name is probably Jebediarrhea Eli or something embarrassing like that. It's okay, I understand. I got married as soon as possible to change my last name, so I can relate :)

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  25. It seems there are more ways than ever to be published these days, and fewer ways to make money at it. Then again, do we really do it for the money? If so, we're in the wrong business... you're right, writers will keep writing and readers will keep reading, and the delivery medium will change and adapt as the world changes. It's hard to let go of the familiar (think of all those record players still being used), but that's the way the world works. It's scared, but we'll be okay. Really. As long as no one panics.

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  26. Yep, I agree with you. Stories have always been around, but they've taken so many different forms. We are just in a stage of transition :)

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  27. Hey EJ - award for you on my blog if you're interested :)

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  28. Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. No matter ga life, not a problem not learn, so enjoy it :)

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“Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.” ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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