Publishing Industry – Change or be Damned?

This article, by Mick Rooney, was originally posted on his POD, Self Publishing and Independent Publishing blog on 10/10/08.


Over the past month, there has been considerable debate about the current state and future of the publishing industry across the internet on writer’s forums and blogsites. Some of the discussion was sparked by Boris Kachka’s recent article in the New York Magazine.

A lot of the criticism of Kachka’s article seems to centre on his depressing analysis expressed from speaking with industry insiders about the current predicament in publishing across the globe. One of the key quotes he uses in his article is from statistician, Philip Roth;

“…there were at most 120,000 serious readers—those who read every night—and that the number was dropping by half every decade.”

Many avid readers will naturally disagree with the Roth quote, and, in fact, I also disagree, but with this caveat. There are perhaps more people reading now, than at any point in the history of mankind. It is time that the publishing industry started to more accurately look at ‘what’ is being read, and more to the point, ‘where’ and ‘how’ it is being read.

Let me digress for just a while before returning to Mr. Roth’s quote.

I think before we can access what state the publishing industry is in right now, we must first look at where it has been and the reasons why it has reached such a pivotal and directionless state. It is not surprising that the industry, like many, has pedalled along and mirrored the rises and falls in the standard of living and economic recessions.

Let us not forget that some of us still living can remember when competent literacy was not always the accepted given that it is now. Let us also not forget that the vast amount of information we take in on a day to day basis is through the written word. Whether that is reading the morning newspaper; the billboards and road signs on the way to work in the car or train; opening our work emails; reading countless memos, reports; studying the lunchtime menu in the cafeteria; browsing the evening newspapers; the recipe for our dinner in the evening; our favourite websites and blogsites; not to mention the countless text messages we receive every day on our mobiles; right to the very point when we fall into bed with the latest bedtime read; they all confront us as part of everyday life.

The fact is, day in, day out, we are reading to overload point. Much of it may be seen as a chore, and some of it may be seen as pleasure. True, pleasurable reading, whether it is Barbara Cartland or James Joyce, Raol Dahl or Stephen Hawkins, will always have the common denominator of shared experience and the identification of a writer to his true reader, and the reader to their favourite writer.

You cannot accurately define the relationship of author/reader in any theoretical form or publishing model. This is even beyond the best publisher’s entrepreneur or even the greatest and most entertaining of writers, because it is fluid, ethereal, and constantly affected by public trends and the personal moods of mankind.

This is not to say that the publishing industry cannot set itself up in a way that gives it the best chance of flourishing, rather than floundering aimlessly amid its printed words and marketing blurbs.

I do not think it is a coincidence that the industry inherently began to seriously change in the economic recession of the 1980’s. The book publishing world followed the mark of the newspaper empires of Murdock and Maxwell, where a handful of media companies controlled the entire national world newsprint output. Throughout the 1980’s, large commercial publishers consumed smaller commercial and independent publishers. We watched large publishers dance around like politicians, desperate to tell us all how different they were from each other, yet, all the while, the centre stage became evermore crowded and the publishing model they used became steadily narrower.

The following are the reasons why I believe the publishing industry has reached its current state of being.

Read the rest of the article at Mick Rooney’s POD, Self Publishing and Independent Publishing blog.

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