2008 will be remembered as the year the future caught up with the publishing industry. For a long time we’ve been hearing rumblings about how publishers needed to reorganize, how bookstores couldn’t survive, how technology would impact the industry, and how e-books would shake everything up. And yet for much of the 00’s, change always seemed to be on the horizon, never quite materializing.
Well, the future arrived, and I think I have whiplash.
We’re moving to a model with a disappearing midlist and a series of big bets, fewer brick and mortar bookstores, an exploding number of self- and indie-published books, two dynamic e-readers, and massive advances for celebrities and perennial bestsellers. Books are now competing not just with movies and television, but with a rapidly evolving Internet that now includes blogs, news, and puppy cams.
So now we’re left with a lot of questions for ’09:
– Will the bestsellers of tomorrow be like THE SHACK — self-published and driven by word of mouth?
– Will Borders survive? And in what form?
– Will publishers regret tying their fates to so few titles?
– Will e-readers become commonplace?
– Will the Internet change reading habits?
It’s a challenging time for the business, and yet when the dust clears next year it will be even more apparent: people are still buying books. Even with all the turmoil the industry has endured, as of October book sales this year were UP over 2007. Up!! Let’s repeat that with caps: UP!! How people are buying books is changing, what types of books they’re buying is changing, who’s publishing them is changing, but people are still buying them, and they still want good ones.
So it’s a tough time, the layoffs hurt, and the future is uncertain. But books are still books.
Now then. Over the next couple of weeks I will not be blogging regularly, but I will be configuring the old Blogger to post reruns I mean greatest hits. It will be like I never left.
Wondering what the world would look like if Borders goes bankrupt? If so, you have something in common with 100% of the publishing industry. Jenny Rappaport digs into some of the different ways a Borders bankruptcy could unfold.
Macmillan is embarking on the creation of a children’s group, which will bring its imprints together under one umbrella. They also announced, unfortunately, that they are eliminating 64 positions.
Moonrat provided some terrific insight into the various elements that go into a decision about hardcover vs. paperback original. She later returned to report that they’re going with hardcover, and here’s why.
This week’s “What’s Wrong With Publishing” article is brought to you by author Lawrence Osbourne, who cites an adherence to “dumb” books like THE DA VINCI CODE (which he calls “execrable twaddle”) as part of the reason for publishing’s economic malaise. He also says that authors like Roberto Bolano and JM Coetzee wouldn’t have been published in the US if they didn’t first succeed in their home countries.
In completely totally unrelated news, genre fiction sales are up! How about that.
Meanwhile, Ballantine editor Mark Tavani weighs in on the industry downsizing, and strikes an upbeat reminder that people still want books (via The Swivet).
Your debate du jour: are the Newbery winning books too challenging? Related: are we becoming lazy readers? Related: what were we talking about again?
And finally, via the New Yorker’s Book Bench blog, Harper’s Fourth Estate celebrated its 25th anniversary by producing this completely spectacular and addicting stop-motion animation short made out of book covers:
Happy Holidays, everyone! See you in ’09!
Miss Viola Bookworm says
Happy Holidays to you, Nathan, and to everyone else who visits and comments on this blog. It’s always a pleasure chatting and learning with you. 🙂
I think I’m going to watch that little stop-motion film every day… many thanks, Nathan. See you on the flipside.
My best, as always,
It’s been an interesting year, and I have a feeling next year is going to be moreso.
Happy holidays, Nathan and everyone. May the best of your yesterdays be the worst of your tomorrows.
Ann Victor says
Book sales are UP? More good news! Yay!
Have a great holiday season, Nathan, and thanks for this great blog!
Ann Victor says
PS and Happy Holidays to everyone else! May 2009 be the best year yet!
Lady Glamis says
Yes, Happy Holidays to all!
Wow. UP. That is exciting and worth cheering about!
Lisa Dez says
Happy holidays, Nathan. Now go buy everyone on your Christmas list a book from Borders. And go easy on your liver–it’s still recovering!
off the page says
I thought this year was going to be ok, but it’s turning into a nightmare.
Eva Gale says
Hemmingway I know. Chaucer, Hesse, Shakespeare, yeah, but who is this Osbourne guy? Twaddle. Back at ‘cha, babe.
Newberry’s getting fluffy? Maybe. I homeschool (I buy a LOT of books) and most of the books I get for my kids are not ones written in the past few years. Landmark books, Speare, Fritz, Pyle, Lancelyn Green. Unfortunately it being a Newbery doesn’t mean much.
Other Lisa says
Happy Holidays to everyone! I’m going book shopping today to round out my gift list.
May 2009 bring health, happiness and an expanded midlist.
My word verification: “brans”!
Borders going out of business? Really? If that happens I'll be doing all my shopping at Amazon. At least Borders offers you 20-30 percent off coupons, which makes books more affordable. At B&N you have to pay 25 bucks to get an extra 10 percent off a book.
If you want to save the book industry stop charging 25 bucks for an adult hardcover or 17 for a YA hardcover. I can't tell you how many books I'd love to own — by new or established authors — but can't afford to. I can't be the only person in America that finds these price systems outrageous. For true readers — readers that read at least 2 or 3 books a month, the library gets business that I'd rather give to the author.
Of the 25 winners and runners-up chosen from 2000 to 2005, four of the books deal with death, six with the absence of one or both parents and four with such mental challenges as autism. Most of the rest deal with tough social issues.
If by “challenging” you mean “depressing”…yes. I look through the list and see a lot of fun old favorites like The Westing Game, Holes, and A Wrinkle in Time. You could read them, love them, and learn from them without being crushed by the world’s problems.
June Saville says
Hi Nathan – just found your blog. Need some holiday reading? Take a bushman’s holiday as we say here, and have a look at my Australian mystery novel ‘Paternity’. I’m presenting it in episodes on my blog Journeys in Creative Writing and am thrilled with the reception it’s getting. Who said people don’t read books on line?
June in Oz
Margaret Yang says
Genre book sales are up! Woot!
Happy New Year, Nathan. Your blog is a bright spot.
Julie Butcher-Fedynich says
Happy Holidays and please remember you get the eggnog WEST of the Mississippi, I get the rest.
Haste yee back ;-) says
IMHO… I think we should get something straight.
STORY will be around as long as Mankind mills about the planet – (or whatever planets we make it to).
However, the means of delivering STORY will change with time and advances in technology. Books are just a means of delivering STORY. And books worked for awhile. Yes, the current model, or one way of delivering STORY, (publishing), is wheezing to its’ death. IMHO, the immutable law of the Universe is… Everything changes! We are witnessing the beginning of a change in the method of delivering STORY – simple as that!
For the business savvy and agile mind, this is a time of great opportunity to birth new ways for all of us to enjoy – STORY!
Haste yee back 😉
Marilyn Peake says
Wow, that is a beautiful video. Love it! Interesting that book sales were up and there was “an exploding number of self- and indie-published books”. There are some amazing indie publishing houses with some very talented writers right now. For the past few years, ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year winners have come from some of the newer indie presses, right alongside books published by Yale and Harvard University presses and other more well-established companies. My prediction for 2009: More than ever, indie press will be a great place for writers to launch their careers and practice their craft. The money may not be great, but it’s a great place to get started while the economy goes through changes.
Happy holidays and all the best in the new year to Nathan and everyone who visits this blog!
Loren Eaton says
Related: are we becoming lazy readers?
When the rules of grammar become a lost art, when phrases such as “AMRMTYFTS n00b LMAO!!1!” are more intelligible than properly punctuated sentences, and when blog posts are considered long-form writing, I think the answer is yes.
Elyssa Papa says
Happy Holidays to everyone!
Good news about sales being UP, and that film is very cute.
Tom Burchfield says
Happy Holidays Nathan and thank you for all your good and sound advice.
We will be in touch.
(and happy Holidays to the rest of you).
So good to hear book sales are UP. I have a good feeling about 2009. I don’t know why, but I just do.
Happy Holidays everyone!
Happy Holidays, Nathan, and to all my fellow blog readers!
Robena Grant says
Happy Holidays to you Nathan, and your bloggers and commenters too, may we all have a fruitful 2009. Thanks for the video, it’s like a collage. Loved it.
Happy Holidays! and Bah Humbug! I hate reading e-books and generally tend to print out something I like. I don’t purchase hardcovers due to price so wait patiently on the paperback. I hate checking out books at the library because I finish them early and never seem to be on that side of town. Books almost always are better than the movie!
I’m enjoying your blog. Thanks!
Artist Et Cetera says
A Happy Discovery for the Poetically-Inclined
There’s at least two…novels in verse in English! Having re-read Eugene Onegin recently, I was delighted to come across Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow, a werewolf novel in irregular verse…by a Detroiter yet…and published in 2008! I’m buying a book published in 2008!
Well, okay, so I think this topic was the post before this one…and then Vikram Seth’s Golden Gate…that’s two novels in verse…a good way to end a miserable year. Plus someone gave me Suite Francaise + Amy Tan’s Saving Fish from Drowning.
Oh well I’ll stop rambling and go shovel some snow.
Jo-Anne Vandermeulen says
Sounds like you’re not surprised. Those who are not caught off guard are usually ready for the outcome. Are you as secure as you sound? Are you this confident?
Variables have a way of winding its sticky claws around the most healthy. Choking even the deepest roots.
Waiting for the challenge…
“Conquer All Obstacles”
Prolific Writer of Romantic Fiction
I just love that book sales are up. It makes me want to dance. Of course, I already spent $600 at the bookstore this past week. It was so hard not to buy books for myself, but I resisted. Heck, I might go back and spend another $600 on myself…just to celebrate of course.
Tis the season!
I think a lot of literary books are twaddle. All writing style, no substance. Obviously this isn’t true across the board, but Mr. Osbourne can’t condemn fiction for being superficial and then recommend books that people would view as masturbatory and superficial (underneath all that ‘fancy’ aka usually boring and meandering writing)
I find that a lot of books just don’t have new ideas anymore. Which is a shame. Everyone says “everything’s been done, so there’s no such thing as a new story”. And to me, that’s a complete cop-out. We’re in this business to figure out what hasn’t been done, or bring fresh stuff to the readers.
And to the few who come up with the idea, they query agents…. and the agents aren’t hearing you. They’re too busy focusing on ‘beautiful’ writing or ultra-commercial, trendy crap. Two extremes. Where’s the balance?
Books used to be the primary way to tell stories. Now we have TV and film, which are far more engaging on many levels (when done well). The only way books can compete is
a) be ahead of the curve when it comes to storytelling. i.e. think ahead of screenwriters
b) provide more depth and substance than film.
Why would I want to read a book about yet another vampire when I can watch Underworld? Then people wonder why the youth aren’t reading anymore. What’s in it for them? There are great stories out there that agents are simply ignoring. It’s not just the agents fault – after all they work with what they think will work. And they can believe in writing when nobody else does. I just think it’s a vicious cycle of boredom.
I’m waiting for that idea within my genre of taste that makes me think: wow, that’s fresh! and relevant…
Feel free to agree with my post, condemn it, etc. I’m here to learn.
I may be a horrible person but I kind of hope Borders goes down. This sentiment is mainly do to my living in Portland and having Powell’s right at my fingertips.
Every time I step into a Borders or Barns and Noble I just get pissed off. They don’t even have a fiction section anymore. How can people expect to by books there when all they sell are calendars and CD’s.
If the big chain stores go under and people still want to read it will give more independent bookstores a chance to succeed. If every city had a five story new/used/out of print bookstore the world would be a much better place.
It’s terribly old-fashioned I know, but it still works so well and I really believe Tiny Tim did say it best, so: “God bless us every one!”
Have a great holiday, Nathan, and all the best to everyone!
Book sales are up, yay!
Interesting thoughts. I resigned directing a branch of my organization to take steps towards pursuing writing, and my husband got laid off (engineer/construction) a few months ago. I must say that it’s been one of the best years for us. When one is fiscally responsible, one has options and the freedom to be creative. This is very much a time of opportunity if you are not locked in debt and bad decision-making.
Unfortunately, so many good writers are. Writing for money drives and therefore twists a lot of good writing. Being locked into jobs that are mildly what a person wants to do (in order to pay debts) leaves one with little time to reflect on life, story, and timeless bits of the human experience that make classics.
We borrow books from our great hometown libraries. Rarely do we purchase. I rarely read new books. I only have so much time in life to read timeless classics, so I waste no time.
Merry Christmas. Thanks for your blogging efforts. Gotta go read a book now. 🙂
Jenny Rappaport says
Happy Holidays, Nathan, and thanks for the link. =)
Happy Holidays, Nathan!
Nathan, thank you for being here for us hopeful-writers, your industry insights and writing tips have helped many this year and in years past.
I’m nursing a bad case of whiplash as well. On my way to get a neck brace fitted, after which I’ll make a gallon of eggnog and do some reading.
To celebrate the New Year, I plan on staying up to write whatever comes. It will likely never get published in book form (this is getting clearer by the hour) but so what: the Future is here and nothing will ever be the same… it will, nevertheless be ‘something’ worth discovering.
Warm wishes for your near and dear, enjoy the Holidays.
L-Plate Author says
Nathan, Merry Christmas and a fab New Year. Love your blog!
Best wishes, Mel xx
Book sales up since ’07?!? That’s surprising considering all the negation I’ve been reading. But it’s great news for all of us!
Merry Christmas, Mr. Bransford! Here’s to great queries and book sales in ’09!
I found the Osbourne article a little pompous, as well. Who the hell uses the word “twaddle” anymore, anyway? He sounds like he’s trying to justify his proclivities. Seems when people are down, there’s always a few “twits” looking to put the boot in.
That said, good commercial fiction––high brow or otherwise––used to go hand in hand with other major entertainment outlets. How many people “read the book first” before seeing a film? Books supply us with nuance and depth that films cannot. I’m not sure there’s more to that contest but time and budget constraints.
I predict that the economy will shake up more than one industry, but that those industries who really understand the consumer and the zeitgeist will find ways to come back with a better model, and better product.
There’s room for art and for twaddle. Knowing how to market both rather than lumping them together and letting the release lay there could help.
Nancy D'Inzillo says
As the head of the publishing program I attend has been saying, while the environment is changing for publishers and there’s lots of panic, this remains an opportunity to adapt to the new technologies. Admittedly, the smaller houses are sometimes better equipped to step in with new ways of doing things, because it doesn’t mean changing an entire establishment, but the big publishers are making moves too. I’m excited to see how it turns out. I’m also happy to hear that book sales are up!
Ohdear, THE WEATHER has obliterated getting to Point B from Point A, so now we’re stuck in NJ for the duration, and I get a chance to participate in the occasional bookish demographics. 🙂
I don’t think publishing’s doomed. I have no doubt that the solutions to the industry’s downturn will be as creative and plentiful as the number and variety of plots, subplots and writers out there!
Happy Hols, Everyone!
Wordver is SAGGED, LOL
Eugenia Tibbs says
I have bought plenty of ebooks but I prefer to curl up with a paperback. I’ve heard it’s easier for first time writers to be published electronically so maybe that is the appeal. Though lately there have been a lot of complaints of pirating ebooks so it does have a downside.
Money is tight right now but the one thing I haven’t cut back on is books. Guess I have my priorities screwed in wrong.
Been enjoying your blog so read you later….
Nathan: “We’re moving to a model with a disappearing midlist…”
I’ve been following publishing for the last 20 years or so. EVERY year, someone says that the midlist is disappearing. Lots of people say so in most years.
So why do we still have a midlist?! Does someone actually have some statistics on this thing? Some proof that it’s actually disappearing? Or is this a publishing “common knowledge” myth like we lose 10% of our body heat out the top of our head?
I want some evidence! Hard evidence! Statistics or patterns or links to point to these things. Otherwise, I can only think the dying midlist issue is an old wives’ tale used as scare tactics.
I’m just tired of seeing the same thing said year after year without any obvious changes at the bookstore.
*mutters to self* post, must make post about publishing myths that are repeated but aren’t evidenced when I go to the bookstore. *mutters more to self*
It’s a comfort to know I am not alone in thinking The Da Vinci Code was a poorly written and edited book. I’m still envious of the author.
Wanda B. Ontheshelves says
I noticed something interesting about your post – that is, you could say the opposite and have it still be true…that is:
“When one is fiscally IRRESPONSIBLE, one has options and the freedom to be creative. This is very much a time of opportunity if you ARE locked in debt and bad decision-making.
FORTUNATELY, so many good writers are. Writing for money drives and therefore STRENGTHENS a lot of good writing. Being locked into jobs that are mildly what a person wants to do (in order to pay debts) leaves one with PLENTY OF TIME to reflect on life, story, and timeless bits of the human experience that make classics.”
Presto change-o! I think the question of debt is a complicated one, and debt and specifically how it relates to creative production (in America at least) even more so. I also point out that rap (storytelling, “conversating”) came out of communities not exactly rolling in dough – where companies ‘rent’ furniture and computers for exorbitant prices, payday loan companies lend for exorbitant amounts, high rates of eviction, foreclosure, joblessness, etc…people engaging in all kinds of what one might term “fiscal irresponsibility” and “bad decision making.” Or maybe you could call it: “handling being a member of a screwed-over minority in America as best as one can.” It’s complicated…
Here’s a quote about the composer Tchaikovsky:
“On leaving his job, Tchaikovsky found himself without money and the reduction of expenditure was most noticeable in its effect on his outward appearance. Writing on how he looked in 1863, his brother Modest wrote: “There is not a trace left of the once fashionable young man. With his long hair, dressed in the old clothes of a dandy, he has changed as radically in his outward appearance, as he has in other ways…”
There you have it: Tchaikovsky, the hippie slacker.
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (KJV)
There is a time for being ahead,
a time for being behind;
a time for being in motion,
a time for being at rest;
a time for being vigorous,
a time for being exhausted;
a time for being safe,
a time for being in danger.
Tao te Ching Chapter 29, trans. Stephen Mitchell