The Past-Future of Publishing0
I have this bad habit of not reading interesting articles at the time I’m in the magazine but instead ripping them out to come back to later. What this really means is that I now have enough pages of articles to catch up that they are essentially several books in and of themselves. Despite my best intentions, I never really get around to reading those interesting things. Fortunately I find them still interesting even a year or two later; I know, because I’m now making myself dig through those folders and read the articles at last. This also means that I’m not really reading any of my books right now, because I’m dedicating myself to these old articles.
At the moment I’m reading an old New Yorker piece called “Books Will Endure, but Will Publishers?” If you’re a reader, a writer, or in publishing, you’re familiar with this concern. “For the past year … we’ve been hearing that new digital technology will make books obsolete,” James Surowiecki comments. “Bookstores will become miniature ghost towns, and the big publishers, with their stiff-necked fixation on ‘the book,’ will dry up and blow away.”
This outlook fascinates me because this article is actually from the June 19 & 26, 2000, issue. The digital piece that had everyone concerned about the future of books Stephen King’s downloadable novella. I remember e-book devices from that time, or at least one. My boss had one, to test as a publisher, and it seemed clunky and not very slick. But this article could see that, in the very near future, the technology would get better and that publishing would need to learn to transform itself to embrace the technology, that many authors might not even need publishers to release their books, that indie publishers could thrive on these changes.
It’s a little funny to look back over the past dozen years since this article was written and see their praise of texts that could be downloaded onto your computer for reading—or even your Palm Pilot—when we avid readers carry infinitely more portable and convenient iPads and devoted e-reader devices. But this article saw the future pretty clearly—that people would be interested in print and digital together and that digital reading could open up new opportunities for authors and publishers. Twelve years later, we are in that world – an even better version of that world … and it’s pretty awesome.