by K.M. Zahrt
The book has been an effective medium for information dissemination for centuries now, and it will continue to be for the foreseeable future.
Here are some quick, encouraging statistics:
- “Publishers’ net revenues in 2012 were $15 billion” (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/15/business/media/e-book-sales-a-boon-to-publishers-in-2012.html).
- “E-book sales in fiction rose 42 percent over the year before, to $1.8 billion” (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/15/business/media/e-book-sales-a-boon-to-publishers-in-2012.html).
- “Americans bought 751,729,000 books in 2010. […] Five years earlier, in 2005, the total was just 650 million” (McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern #37, 2011).
- Literacy is high: 98% of the adult population are considered literate (McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern #37, 2011).
For starters, of course the large publishing industry is concerned about where things are going. The traditional publishing industry is being shaken up by technological advances that run counter to how traditional publishing has been done — and done profitably — for many years. However, as Michiganders know all too well, business as usual does not usually last. Ask “Old GM” and the Chrysler of 2008 how that goes. The large publishers and booksellers need to be concerned about being forward thinking, because the number of independent publishers (their competitors) are on the rise. However, as a writer and a reader, that is none of my concern. If large publishing houses don’t get their acts together, someone else will. To me, that’s reassuring.
There is some concern, on the reader’s part, about the traditional book being replaced by e-books. This, too, doesn’t not concern me. This anxiety on the reader’s part is, ironically, a guarantee of the physical book’s existence in the future, at least for now. How often have you heard or said yourself something like: “I prefer to have the physical book in my hands, to be able to turn the pages, etc.” Publishers will keep publishing physical books because readers will keep buying them.
Also, there’s room in the market for both books and e-books. I have a Kindle. I buy e-books. But I also buy physical books in droves. I mostly buy e-books for easy reference, if it’s information I want to have on me as I go about my work, or for travel. I buy physical books for everything else. Ultimately, the anxiety on the reader’s part is simply an internalization of the book industries’ expressed concern. That, I won’t buy.
As for the writer, the only concern should be about producing quality, quality, quality. And there will always be a need for good, quality writing. As Kurt Vonnegut said, “The function of the artist is to respond to his own time” (Sumner, Unstuck in Time, 2011). And the writer’s own time continues to renew every year. In the end, once the writing is finished, there will be hordes of publishers available to deliver the book to a literate audience.
Now, it’s time for me to take that advice. Off to write!