1 November

The Path to Progress. Or at least, change

by Jon Katz

When I am on the farm, eight eyes are often up on me

  Some publishers are worried that e-books and the growing belief in business that the Internet has created a culture in which few people will actually pay for creative works like music or books will endanger current models of books and publishing. I am not so sure. Stories are different from songs, books are different than CD’s.
  I can understdand the concern. On my book tour, a woman asked me to sign her new Kindle. I said I would happily sign it, but I asked if she understood that if all books were sold that way, there would not be bookstores or writers to sign books in them on book tours. She did not understand, she said.
  We tend to fear new technologies, and they are unpredictable. They rarely do what we expect.  E-books make a lot of sense for some people – commuters, business travelers, people who buy books they don’t necessarily want to lug around and keep and pass to friends and family (romance, porn). There are lots of different trends in publishing.
  Children’s book sales are up, a curious statistic for a form that is about to perish. Some genres of animal book sales are up, as well as mystery and fantasy, not surprising given the bad news people have had to contend with. Stupid political books seem to be selling.
  Publishers are rethinking how they buy, market and distribute books.
  One of the most interesting things to watch in complex times is who responds to change and who doesn’t. And how. I go to a restaurant that offered all of its entrees for $12 once the Great Recession began, and its business is up 40 per cent at a time when many restaurants are closing. I need to change, too, if I want to stay a writer. And I am changing. I am writing children’s books and novels. I am working hard to maintain and upgrade this website. I am listening to readers. I am on Facebook and Twitter, and taking photos.
  I am planning a cross-country, interactive book tour.
   It seems to me, between bookstores, e-books, online booksellers, chain and independent books, that more people than ever want and need stories, and are buying and consuming them in all sorts of ways, from books to e-books to blogs to self-publishing.
  I do not personally believe that bookstores will evaporate. I spent too much time in them, and see too many people there to believe that. If you want to study change in publishing, go a Barnes & Noble that has a new Barnes & Noble at School department, and see how a bookstore can respond creatively to the marketplace. Or go to Red Fox books in Glens Falls, N.Y., and see the highly personal one-on-one relationship the store is building with a struggling city in upstate New York. Or consider the children’s department at Northshire Books in Manchester, Vt.
  Technology is overwhelming sometimes, and so is the panic that always surrounds it.  The music industry did not respond well to change. I think publishers are changing, and radically.
  But I can only manage my own part. I believe I will stand or fall on the hard work I do, on the strength of the stories I tell, and their relevance to people. If I do my job, my stories will find their place, and their audience. That is my own faith. And I believe in it quite strongly.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Email SignupEmail Signup