"Immersion in the life of the world, a willingness to be inhabited by and to speak for others, including those beyond the realm of the human, these are the practices not just of the bodhisattva but of the writer." --Jane Hirshfield

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Why Book Publishers Fail

Is there anyone who reads The Drudge Report instead of a good book? Does it make sense to blame the internet for publishing's decline, or is it instead the result of several years of bad decisions? The loss of 2,000 independent booksellers? Dohle's depredations at Random House? Cutting expenses by replacing senior employees with newbies? Or has publishing dumbed down, and "drifted into the paper-thin celebrity culture that defines just about every other domain, and which is rendering American culture as dull and monotonous as anything in Western history." Lawrence Osborne at Forbes.

I agree that publishing seems a bit dumbed down, but in the same article, Osborne says industry insiders blame agents, editorial failures, and lack of "franchise authors" to bolster overall sales. It sounds like you can't swing a cat without hitting someone who is to blame. Agents for trying to make fast money, instead of building authors' careers, editorial failures in the form of cuts in actual editing -- "resulting in longer, sloppier books that bore readers stupid" -- and Dan Brown for not writing an enticing sequel to the DaVinci Code.

A friend in publishing (laid off from Random House, incidentally) makes the point that the market for books is not readers, exactly, but those readers who buy books, and that we buy them for their content and quality -- remember when books were the authority on grammar and spelling? Now I don't remember the last time I got through a new book without noticing a dozen or more sometimes appalling errors. Not to mention the awful shapelessness of "longer, sloppier books" -- for $25 and up. Books used to give the reader the sense that something in the world made sense, or perhaps that sense could be made of the world. Am I naive in writing that? I used to feel, when reading a good book, that someone in the world knew what they were doing, how to think and express things, that the world might actually be in good hands. Okay, I'm naive, but it really was about world view. And now publishing is yelling about the sky falling. I'm not shelling out $25 for that, and neither is anybody else, apparently. Unless it's really well written...

1 comment:

Kay Sexton said...

Not naive at all. There seems to be a sense, in publishing, that readers want the formlessness of their own existence validated in fictional form. I have no idea why this belief has developed, when for centuries it was abundantly clear that readers wanted the formlessness of their own existence to be challenged by good literature!