Tom Conoboy led me to this article and that has led me to this post.
First a story. Back in the final days of my life as an author, about three years ago, my agent and I were having lunch with my (then) editor and the publicist. It was a nice midtown Manhattan restaurant, little private caverns off to the sides where power people could sequester themselves amid the wine racks and cheese carts and do powerful things, officious servers offering their last names, not first, and the bustle of wheeling and dealing all around, the cacophony of commerce.
I don’t recall how this came up, but I told my editor how much advance I got for my first novel (1981), and the figure (which I do not feel comfortable revealing) literally set her back in her chair; after a reflective moment, she said, “Well, those days are over.”
That’s the thing about days. They won’t stop being over.
My regular readers already know the rest, so I am not going to keep repeating the death of books mantra. I think it’s a done deal. As in the Telegraph article, bound books are going to become as obsolete as vinyl records, and the only books still available will be works with guaranteed sales, based on bean counting projections, and they will not be sold in what we know of as bookstores. They will be in Safeway or Tesco or WalMart, or Costco, shelved in the bottom rows below the ketchup and trinkets, reflective of their relative value to the consumer society.
I understand what’s happening here. I understand that it is entirely about money. I know why Rupert Murdoch is the most powerful man in the world, with the power to churn up madmen to riot in the streets, if he can make a buck out of it. I don’t think about money very often because I have enough. The difference between the money madness attached to Murdoch and his kind and me is the definition of enough. I have enough, they will never have enough. But I understand the force of their motivation; it is what business is, entirely.
When books ceased to be a “special category” of product (see the linked article) and became baked beans, the book business sealed its fate, and ours as authors. It’s done. What interests me now is the concept of print-on-demand (POD). In the new world where every decision is financial, where everything is about money, where profit is the only only success, the only way the bound book can survive is if it is cost-effective. I want bound books to survive. For my future work, I will be investigating POD as probably the best option.
I will, though, treasure my memories of the days when books and literature were vital elements of any intelligent society. I am glad I lived through it, even if it happened to be at the end of it.