If I’m going to talk about the publishing industry at all, I need to say something about the gigantic existential crisis both publishers and readers have been suffering for the past few years: print is dying (sort of).
Much of this existential crisis is very real. Publishers are having to redesign their business models to keep up with the advent of ebooks and electronic publishing in general and the multitude of ways it is pushing out, and rightfully so, physical printing. I myself had to learn how on earth the whole thing is done from scratch, and I’m not sure the process will ever not be at least a little bit of a pain in the ass. But we all have to do it. Those who don’t are doomed to wither into obsolescence. Places like Barnes & Noble and Amazon led the way, making their own ereader devices, and now they’re sitting firmly on top. They took full advantage of a production and distribution model that is nearly free compared to printing and shipping physical books, and it’s just a whole lot better suited to the way the developed world consumes media now.
But a lot of the crisis, especially when it comes to all the bookish reader types, is a matter of emotional attachment. Bookworms love their books, and an ebook just isn’t the same as a book. I’ve even seen this sentiment even extend to small publishers to whom I reached out for ebook work–they were simply uninterested in pursuing ebooks even as a supplementary production and distribution model. I guess they were just afraid of saving money and gaining more customers? Actually, they were concerned with preserving an image for their bookworm consumers who would consider ebooks a kind of betrayal. Adopting ebooks as a new norm would be throwing away the essential experience of sitting and reading with a book in your lap that has been enjoyed by readers for hundreds of years, and people don’t like that.
Except that people had the same complaints about books and written stories in general when all that started out. Most notably, Socrates is supposed to have hated writing because it replaced our memory, thus making oral storytelling–the “essential” storytelling experience–obsolete. Guys, stories are stories regardless of the medium; there is no “essential medium” for them besides language. They’ll be fine, even if they’re on screens now.
They’re even getting pretty easy to make, mostly thanks to the program Playwrite, by Wundr, to whom I have to give a shout out. Their wonderful WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get, referring to the style of design software) ebook editor is a miracle (though still a little bit of a pain in the ass) even compared to making ebooks with InDesign, and I hugely recommend it to anyone who wants to figure out ebook development for themselves. Which, if you’re at all interested in getting into the publishing industry, you really need to do that.
And, in spite of all of this, print will never totally disappear. In the same way vinyl records have managed to stick around at least a little bit, I have to admit that print has a particular aesthetic value that I’m sure enough people will appreciate to make sure it sticks around for any length of foreseeable future. They also will forever have the practical advantage of being available for reading even when you’re somehow away from a power outlet. Ebooks may be winning, but it’s not a battle; it’s just an evolution, and it can be a nice symbiotic one.