To make a very long story short, I was a book luggingÂ LudditeÂ 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, theÂ codex.Â 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 articlesÂ later.