I’m beginning to keep a mental laundry list of reasons to be pessimistic about the book industry. Admittedly, an odd thing to do as I prepare to enter that industry with my own book.
Among the hypotheses already advanced by others (some of them already rebutted, others contradictory):
1) people don’t read anymore,
2) publishers are crap,
3) the marketers of publishers are crap,
4) people don’t have time. And now
5) people still read but they’re cheapskates bent on ruining authors and publishers.
This submission comes from David Streitfeld in today’s New York Times. He begins with the usual wrap-up of angst–Houghton Mifflin Harcourt not accepting new manuscripts, bookstores closing, and so forth–and then assigns the blame:
Don’t blame this carnage on the recession or any of the usual suspects, including increased competition for the reader’s time or diminished attention spans. What’s undermining the book industry is not the absence of casual readers but the changing habits of devoted readers.
In other words, it’s all the fault of people like myself, who increasingly use the Internet both to buy books and later, after their value to us is gone, sell them. This is not about Amazon peddling new books at discounted prices, which has been a factor in the book business for a decade, but about the rise of a worldwide network of amateurs who sell books from their homes …
For readers and collectors, these resellers, as they are called, offer a great service. Lost in the hand-wringing over the state of the book industry is the fact that this is a golden age for those in love with old-fashioned printed volumes: more books are available for less effort and less money than ever before. …
There is, he says,
no longer a set price for a book at any one time. If you want it during those first few weeks when it is new, you will pay a premium. If you can wait, it might be only a pittance.
The book industry is thus in the bad company of 1) the music industry and 2) the news industry. In music, the people who do the most listening are the young, for evolutionary reasons, and they have been sharing music free for years, because they can. In news, they have been doing much the same.
I think there are angles missing from this analysis, so more to come.