Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Save Publishing? I'd Like to See an Easy Transition is all.

ShelfAwareness posted an article this morning called Hashtags Could Save Publishing.

At the bottom, they include some of these increasingly popular twitter hashtags:
Other tags on reading and the book industry, some more (ahem) playful than others:
  • #askagent, in which agents field questions from writers and readers
  • #bookrageous, chronicling some of the outlandish things readers and booksellers are doing in honor of their favorite books
  • #bookstorebingo, which tracks some of the crazier things customers say to booksellers
  • #followreader, featuring weekly conversations exploring the evolution of publishing as an industry
  • #fridayreads, which encourages Twitter users to exchange notes about what they're reading on a given Friday
  • #pantyworthy, the book version of throwing panties at your favorite band
  • #pubQT, in which publishing veterans Ron Hogan and Ed Nawotka answer questions and encourage conversation about the future of publishing.--Jenn Northington

The one that got me going all yesterday afternoon is the one that started their article: #dearpublisher

It's like Dear High School Self (#gimmeacall), except that publishers were actually tracking the conversation, and your high school self was completely oblivious to your well-intentioned advice.

There were many valid and interesting comments by readers, authors, agents, and publishers (and it continues today). #dearpublisher has been an industry-wide forum...mostly for complaints. But there have been a few gems, and I was surprised and honored when one of my tweets became the most retweeted comment in the bunch. It's nice to know so many people agree. Here was my request of #dearpublisher(s):

Katrina Lantzkatrinalantznov 
#dearpublisher Combine ebooks with hardcovers, but please don't stop printing books ever. The book is not dead. It just had babies.

It's not a new idea, and I suppose that's why it resonated with so many people. They've all been thinking it. Bundling ebooks with paper books is a concept plastered all over the web, for people with eyes to look. And now twitter has made it especially easy for publishers to see the demand. 

The second part of that tweet was born out of my frustration with people saying the book is dead. Uber-agent Nathan Bransford wrote eloquently about this in his blog post: Buckle Up! But even as optimistic as he is (God bless him), he's still predicting physical/paper books will wane and bookstores/libraries as we know them will be no more. 

I don't see why this has to be the case. Certainly public demand has shifted to include a new format for receiving books. There are now hard backs, paper backs, ebooks, audio books, and even book apps. But nobody decided, when books on CD became popular, that they should give up printing paper books. It's simply another format. 

A shift in demand calls for a dramatic shift in publisher and bookseller business models. I'm not knowledgeable enough to pontificate about what that change should include. I leave it to the experts. But I steadfastly believe that the culture of bookstores and libraries is one still loved and cultivated by millions. Bookstores are not the ghost-towns we are being led to believe. My husband and I walk around a local bookstore almost every weekend, perusing the new selections and often buying multiple books, in spite of the tough economy. For those of us who read, these places are a sanctuary against outside stresses. We still have to wait in line at the checkout.

So if people are frequenting bookstores, why don't book sales reflect the crowd? 

Conundrum: Booksellers must pair wandering bookstore patrons with the books they're craving.

Answer: Creative marketing, continued market research, and accessible technology coupled with (not replacing) human in-store service.

About marketing: When I log in to facebook, a series of out-of-my-way boxes along the right side of my screen advertise things that actually interest me. Every time I click on one of those links, I'm thinking, This is brilliant marketing. They've really made it easy for me to find stuff I like. Advertisements are only annoying when they're pushing stuff you don't like. So keep looking, booksellers, and find the people who like your stuff. There's probably a huge group of them on or elsewhere just salivating for what you have to offer.

Inside the store: Let there be some sort of kiosk, as in the library, where books can easily be found as soon as you enter the store. But bring back the days, if they ever existed, when bookstore clerks recommended their favorite books based solely on a generic request for historical romance or something scary with spiders in it. That last one wasn't very generic, but you get my drift. Culture in a bookstore does not mean coffee and donuts (though some people will riot at my saying so). Create your own pleasant culture as a store and watch people wander in, fall in love, and tell all their friends. 

There's room for new formats for voracious readers without ousting printed books completely. Those of us still clinging to our bookshelves aren't doing it out of ignorance or intense anti-technology hatred. It's not a "book fetish" as one commenter on Nathan's blog insists. 

Books in print have stood the test of time for centuries. Many, many, many new and brilliant formats have emerged and been embraced. Still, books remain. And unless our society makes a conscious, deliberate decision to do away with them (a poor decision, in my opinion), they will remain for centuries to come. 

We don't need to save publishing. It's populated with friggin' geniuses (seriously, people!) already adapting to the fast-changing demands of its customers. Let's let our voices be heard and help them transition smoothly.

Cooperation benefits us all.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Speak up! You will be heard...or read.