Mia Eaton reports on the cultural and technological evolution of publishing, and actually remains optimistic.
Last week I attended BookExpo America, the publishing industry’s annual trade show, as well as the DIY Authors Conference and DigitalBook 2010, and what I picked up was a mix of anxiety, optimism, and eagerness to learn what's in store for the future of publishing.
Before the official start of BEA2010, the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan held the DIY Authors Conference
. For anyone not familiar, the Do-It-Yourself
movement has been embraced by artists and musicians in recent years mostly thanks to the powers of the Internet, and lately harnessed by entrepreneurial and frustrated would-be authors to self-publish their works. Self publishing (a different animal than vanity publishing, which is simply paying others to publish your work) is not what it used to be. Empowerment, complete control of their content, time to market, the ability to edit or update, and to share in unrestricted ways are all reasons an author may choose to self publish. A model held up for example was The Blog-Aid Cookbook
created by food bloggers for Haiti earthquake relief.
DIY panels discussed everything from author success stories to the challenging realities of competition and marketing that face authors once a book is made real. The numbers don't paint a pretty picture: a mere 7% of books published represent a whopping 87% of books sold. 83% of Americans dream of publishing a book, but in 2009, only 57% of adults in the U.S. bought even one printed book. Pragmatically, undauntedly, the panels focused on building one's professional profile, marketing one's book, and the sometimes symbiotic relationship of DIY pub with traditional publishing organizations.
On the main floor, a curated group of service providers sat waiting to answer questions and discuss options. I spent a great deal of time talking with vendors and eavesdropping on the Q&A between potential authors and vendors.
DigitalBook 2010 (IDPF) celebrated the happy marriage of electronic publishing and sales distribution. The proof-in-the-pudding showing that what is done for the benefit of the reader and the user will benefit publishers and booksellers, with success stories and lessons from what's taking place in countries like Japan, Canada, and England. Emphasis was on the universal .epub format, on copyright, and the agency model of book-selling.
BEA itself was bustling and dramatic. For me, the highlights were indeed, the Authors Breakfast hosted by Jon Stewart
(yes those people really did deserve to get mocked), and the 7x20x21 panel
in that it presented a lot of ideas that I already hold dear and was glad to see disseminated. Carolyn Kellogg has a comprehensive writeup for the LA Times
that captures things nicely, and of course, the NY Times
, itself threatened, focuses on the anxiety
that, frankly, I didn't pick up quite as strongly. Every industry professional — young and old — who found out what skills and philosophy I hold, and what I understand how to do, was friendly and eager to talk to me as a future ally, not an impending enemy.
It can be tempting to wave a hand at the hubbub and say the Goliaths of publishing will fall and the Davids shall be the death of them, but the more complicated and exciting reality is that there is a lot for everyone to learn, all offering tremendous possibilities for every facet of the industry. Opportunities for success will depend entirely on how much one wants to pay attention to the cultural and technological evolution of book buying and book reading.