One week in the drama of the printed word

Just a quick alert to those of you who may not follow these matters as obsessively as I do: This is a cacophonous week even by the standards of the echo chamber that houses the pundits who hold forth about “the future of the newspaper” and such matters.

For once, I cannot really weigh in until The Economist‘s next issue is out (on Thursday night), because I am writing on one aspect of this. But I wanted at least to point you to various angles at whose intersection you may independently find … a thought:

  1. Amazon yesterday announced its Kindle 2 (ie, its electronic reading device for books*). I have been trying the Kindle 1 and am on the list to get the Kindle 2. I cannot say more for now.
  2. Google is making available over one million out-of-copyright books for reading on your mobile phone, thus joining many others apps, such as Stanza, that let you do that already.
  3. In case it’s not obvious*, the Kindle lets you receive (wirelessly–yucky word) and read not only books but also newspapers and magazines. In fact, I am about to unsubscribe from my last remaining print newspaper, the New York Times, in order to read only the Kindle, iPhone and web versions.
  4. Into this maelstrom, Walter Isaacson (whose biography of Einstein is in the bibliography of my forthcoming book) has written a cover story in Time Magazine in which he argues that “micro-payments” will save the journalism industry. (Here he is kidding around with Jon Stewart about it.)
  5. Other stalwarts of the industry, such as Michael Kinsley, are already busy dismantling every part of Isaacson’s argument.
  6. To summarize, for those hibernating in an igloo without WiFi: We were confused at the beginning of the week, we are confused in the middle of it, and we will be confused at the end of it.

As I said, I will today try to make sense of at least one part of this mess, and you can read the result in The Economist on Thursday night. It’s one of those rare occurrences when my private interests as a writer and aspiring author overlap with my day job of covering my beat. Yesterday, for instance, I was interviewing the boss of Penguin, John Makinson, about the topic–we began by kidding around, because Penguin, of course, owns Riverhead, where an editor is right now looking at my manuscript.

Bookmark and Share

The end of book publishing? Part III

Just as I was running the risk of ecstatic optimism–my book is coming along great and I’m writing it much faster than I had expected–a long but worthwhile article in New York Magazine comes along to remind me that I should really be … dejected.

I have opined on the end of the book business before. In that post, I struggled with the question of whether or not anybody still … reads.

Now New York Magazine cheers us up by asking, among other things, whether or not anybody still sells (book stores), pays (book publishers) or markets (ditto). I’ve pulled out the choicest quotes:

Lately, the whole, hoary concept of paying writers advances against royalties has come under question… [The] money has to come from somewhere, so publishers have cracked down on their non-star writers. The advances you don’t hear about have been dropping precipitously.

(Fortunately, I’ve already got my advance.) Next, publicity:

Traditional marketing is useless. “Media doesn’t matter, reviews don’t matter, blurbs don’t matter,” says one powerful agent.

(I wonder if that “powerful agent” was this one.)

But that’s not enough. Borders Group, which controls about 12% of the entire book-selling market all by itself, is apparently “on death watch”. And then Amazon, the industry agrees, is poised to exert total, Big-Brotherish  domination of the market.

Oh vey, oh vey, oh vey…

Bookmark and Share