Friday, June 07, 2013

A Tale of Two Book Expo Americas: dazed reeling or reading relief?

Center of the publishing universe (?)
Book Expo America just concluded the other day (June 1, 2013) and reading the media reports, helps to, well, clarify nothing about the state of "The World of Books."

From the NY Times, we get the story, "A Reading of Relief at Annual Book Show" which assures us that the Book World is in fine shape, that the evil ebooks are being beaten back, and that bookstores are on the rise.

Meanwhile, over at the Huffington Post, we're told: "The State of Books: BEA 2013 Shows Industry Still Reeling".

Each story has some truths of course, but overall, I believe that Michael Glitz's HuffPo piece is the more clear-eyed and fact based take on the annual publishing meeting. The Times Julie Bosman throws puffballs at  (mostly senior) publishing execs who help her paint the state of publishing as a glowing, rosy world.

Sadly, when Bosman turns to others for quotes, she talks to a librarian who makes the (IMHO) the cardinal error of conflating "print" and "publishing":
“When you work in a library, you constantly hear that print is dying, and then you come here and feel so much energy,” said Barbara Moralis, a librarian at Northampton Community College in Bethlehem, Pa., as she waited in a long line to meet the author Andrew Gross. “Publishing is not dead.”
Old School publishing
Well ... no, she's sorta right, more books than ever are published. Moreover, there are more good/great books being published outside the world of Big 5.5 publishing (and more less than good, lazy books being published by those same 5.5).

As I've noted elsewhere (here, and the related pieces), The problem with the Big 5.5 publishers is that they’re not making clear what the role of the publisher is in the ecosystem of editing, distribution, author development, and manufacture (print or e). Those four subjects have been locked in a vertically integrated stack for the last 150+ years and a spate of disruptive technologies (ebooks being only the last in the line) are breaking that stack up. Big 5.5 publishers are not showing (yet, or likely to) agility to meet the challenges of those disruptions.

The end of Civilisation (?)
Michael Levin (also writing in the HuffPo) is an author and businessman. His piece, "In New York, The Real Vanity Publishers Converge" cuts the publishing execs (and our poor librarian) no slack in his scathing take on the press coverage of BEA 13:
"So if the publishers' new business plan is to stick their heads like onions in the ground (another Yiddish curse) and hope that Amazon, tweeting, texting, smartphones, ebooks, and that new-fangled Internet the kids are so excited about all go away, then they better stock up on the ganja. That's because their whole industry, foolishly led and now downright delusional, is going up in smoke."

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