There is something outside of the text

To make a very long story short, I was a book lug­ging Lud­dite until about three years ago when I dis­covered that the inter­net was more than cats fiend­ing after cheese­bur­gers. And, since then, I have become increas­ingly fas­cin­ated with digit­al cul­ture’s scrolls and more than a little con­cerned about my friend, the codex. Over the next few days, I plan on giv­ing you a rough lay of land in the new/old pub­lish­ing world accord­ing to my eye.

Caveat: I am not an expert in the field. I have nev­er worked in it, but I have loved books in the past, known more than my fair share of authors and edit­ors, and spent many of my wak­ing hours think­ing about the shift in read­ing habits and wheth­er it does, indeed, demand com­par­is­ons with Guten­bur­g’s revolu­tion.

We’ll start with a long, but inter­est­ing* essay by a former Edit­or-in-Chief of Ran­dom House, Daniel Menaker, on the con­tem­por­ary pub­lish­ing industry:

And here is the list of mostly non-arith­met­ic­al obser­va­tions about main­stream pub­lish­ing that these occa­sions have led me to com­pile. It is writ­ten primar­ily from the point of view of a medi­um- or seni­or-level acquis­i­tions edit­or at a major trade house in New York City, the cen­ter of the pub­lish­ing world. It applies prin­cip­ally to the pub­lic­a­tion of ori­gin­al hard­cov­er books. Some of these obser­va­tions have been observed before, but I hope to refresh them here. Some will be less famil­i­ar, I hope. These ideas are drawn from pub­lish­ing as it stands – maybe I should say “stumbles” –right now; many of them may well not obtain when elec­tron­ic-book-text digit­iz­a­tion begins in earn­est. That will hap­pen in a fin­an­cially and organ­iz­a­tion­ally seis­mic way very quickly, I think – over the next dec­ade –but I believe that this impend­ing Guten­berg-level shift in read­ing cul­ture, along with the eco­nom­ic dis­asters of the last two years, render the chal­lenges of present-day hard-copy pub­lish­ing all the more agon­iz­ing, imme­di­ate, and dra­mat­ic. At least in the abstract, and espe­cially in this eco­nom­ic cli­mate, most oth­er pro­fes­sions pose some of the same prob­lems for those who pur­sue them, no doubt. But the tec­ton­ic­ally oppos­ing demands on pub­lish­ing – that it sim­ul­tan­eously make money and serve the tra­di­tion of lit­er­at­ure – and its highly unpre­dict­able out­comes and its prom­in­ence in the atten­tion of the media have made it a kind of poster adult for cap­it­al­ism and the arts in crisis.

For the most part, I have to say I’m glad to have left this all behind, except in the tran­quil­ity of recol­lec­tion. But since pub­lish­ing is essen­tially a casino, I do miss the thrill of gambling and the rare win­ning throw of the dice.

*I write ‘inter­est­ing’, of course, because I plan on post­ing bor­ing art­icles later.

2 thoughts on “There is something outside of the text

  1. Mark Barrett

    Just found your site and am enjoy­ing the con­tent.

    Regard­ing this:

    “…I have loved books in the past, known more than my fair share of authors and edit­ors, and spent many of my wak­ing hours think­ing about the shift in read­ing habits and wheth­er it does, indeed, demand com­par­is­ons with Gutenburg’s revolu­tion.”

    The advent of the inter­net as a pub­lish­ing platform/distribution pipeline does demand com­par­i­sions with the print­ing press. My reas­on­ing here:

    http://www.ditchwalk.com/2009/09/19/scalability-bites-back/

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