Last Days of the Publishing Dinosaurs

Las Vegas is a fun place to visit for a party. All glitz, glamour and sizzle. None of it is real. From the massive water features in the middle of a desert to the faux architecture to the illusion that you could win big, it’s all a big show of smoke and mirrors.

And we willingly engage in it, embracing the fancy that we could really be dining in Paris or riding a roller coaster through the skyline of New York City. It’s fun and fabulous and absolutely without substance.

This is perfectly fine, as long as you keep a grip on what is real.

Not always easy to do.

I remember when I was a kid – the kind with ten-thousand questions – and my mom told me that, when I went to school, my teachers would know the answers. To my delight, they did. At least for a few years. Then, as I grew older, I discovered my teachers didn’t have all the answers. A few of the good ones taught me how to research answers for myself.

But the lesson stuck: just because a person appears to be in a position of knowledge, doesn’t mean what they say is real.

Yeah – I’m on a bit of a rant again.

Another industry giant – this time it’s Scott Turow, of legal thriller fame – has written a Missive of Doom about the impending demise of publishing. You can go read it, if you like, though I warn you, it’s just more of the same wailing and gnashing of teeth. The big NYC publishers are imperiled because the Justice Department is suing for price-fixing on ebooks, which is very likely exactly what occurred, and therefore Turow leaps to the worst possible conclusion: that writing and reading will be extinguished.


The part that really gets me is this:

Our concern about bookstores isn’t rooted in sentiment: bookstores are critical to modern bookselling.  Marketing studies consistently show that readers are far more adventurous in their choice of books when in a bookstore than when shopping online.  In bookstores, readers are open to trying new genres and new authors: it’s by far the best way for new works to be discovered.

No, no citation or link on that. Just the assertion of “marketing studies” and that consistent return of data that is apparently so well-established that it’s common knowledge. No actual statistics necessary.

Now, I’m not saying it isn’t true. I’d just really love to see these numbers. Since I’ve never seen them before.

I’d also love to know exactly which era those numbers come from. Because if those studies refer to shopping habits older than the last two years, even the last year, I’d have to cry foul.

I remind myself that this kind of thing happens with major paradigm shifts. There will always be people rooted in the old paradigm who can only see that world crumbling away. They haven’t stepped through into the emerging world yet, so they can’t see the possibilities. Last year, at the RWA conference, a venerable agent gave a seminar on how to succeed in publishing. Someone in the audience asked a pointed question about how electronic publishing had changed things. He asserted that absolutely nothing had changed. He seemed to regard ebooks as a passing fad, if he noticed their existence at all. He also suggested that we buy his 20 year-old book on the industry, which was a hardback because it’s a valuable book, he assured us. After a stunned silence, people began bleeding out of the seminar.

Turow claims he’s not concerned for his own career, but for the lack of opportunity for new authors if the NYC publishers are hurt by this lawsuit. Meanwhile, as I wrote this, Angela James at Carina Press just tweeted that they acquired five brand new authors this week. I wonder how many new authors have been acquired by the big NYC publishers this week?

Times change. Technology grows at a rapid pace.

But the death of something old is not the end of the world. Only of that paradigm. A new one, full of vigor and growth takes its place.

I’m sure the world the dinosaurs lived in was a lovely place. But the climate changed and we now live in a different world. You can only bemoan the passing of the old world for so long. Otherwise you dwell only in the past, not the present.

And that’s not real anymore.

2 Replies to “Last Days of the Publishing Dinosaurs”

  1. Other than convenience, I love e-books because of all the new authors being published. I have discovered some wonderful writers and stories that traditional publishing ignored.

    1. I totally agree, Julie. And this seems to be something that the long-established folks are totally missing. I suspect they think that if traditional publishing ignored it, it should be ignored.

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