Last week’s post was depressing in many ways, but gave more insight on the negative effects of technology on the publishing industry and addressed the most important piece: to what extent. So for this post, I will be discussing an article that is, as suggested by the title, more uplifting than the last. It was published in 2013 by Evan Hughes on The New Republic.
The page’s title is, “The Publishing Industry is Thriving,” although the article‘s title is, “Books Don’t Want to Be Free”. They are separate titles referring to two different things, but it feels as though either one could have been this article’s title. The subtitle reads, “How publishing escaped the cruel fate of other culture industries.”
So the titles and headings all seem very promising, until I began reading. It’s not so much that the publishing industry is still thriving or doing so well there’s no need to worry. What this article is falsely advertising is that the publishing industry, compared to other industries, is doing okay for the time being, not even amazing. The article was not all bad news, as Hughes says,
At the individual level, everyone in the trade—whether executive, editor, agent, author, or bookseller—faces threats to his or her livelihood: self-publishing, mergers and “efficiencies,” and, yes, the suspicious motives of Amazon executives. But the book itself is hanging on and even thriving.
Hughes compares the publishing industry to the music, film, and journalism industries. No wonder, in this perspective, books are thriving. However, he never claims that the industry is not facing it’s fair share of inevitable decline or that compared to industries which have actually become better through technology, the publishing industry is doing well.
However, on a more uplifting note, he continues on to say that although technology has most certainly depredated from the three aforementioned industries, in the publishing industry, the entirety of a text is only given once the customer pays the asking price. This directly contradicts the viewpoint of Morrison, whose argument I discusses last week. Morrison points out that many people, with the new freedom of e-books, can now pirate those for free, in turn driving the prices down.
Hughes acknowledges that there’s more to this industry than merely the cost of producing and paying for the production of a book. He says, in the following paragraph,
Reading never depended too much on sensual verisimilitude, only a mental leap from the words to the ideas they represent. The book is so low-tech, it’s hard for technology to degrade it.
This seems, to some degree, to be true. But to think more critically of what Hughes says casually here: technology has somehow succeeded into making print less practical and usable than it used to be. When every student, for instance, has a laptop, Kindle, Nook, or tablet, it’s almost counterintuitive to print out a reading, or to buy a paper/hardback book. Perhaps Hughes is not directly speaking of the physicality of a book, here, but it is a huge part of the degradation of the publishing industry. Yes, text that is published online is just as viable and valid as a physical print copy. But the art of publishing and the art of written word, the art of reading when it’s not surrounded by other contexts (the rhetoric of a website) all gets lost when the physical book becomes obsolete. And who wants to waste paper and their money on printing?
Hughes continues to talk about libraries, to which I had to stop reading for a moment. It’s sad to think about how vital libraries used to be just a generation ago. There was no Google or Internet, there was no where else to get information but the library. Whereas today, libraries have also become obsolete in that the most they’re used for is avid readers and people who need a quiet place, but have no intention of looking for or using any of the books in the library. His point here is that books there are free — but what he might not recognize is that books there have probably not been updated in a while. Moreover, he disagrees with the prediction (made in 2010) that book piracy will skyrocket.
Hughes seems to be in favor of e-book, to which he demonstrates the profit margin (at 75%). For paper and hard backs, the profit margin is 41%. He favors this because “publishers can charge much less, but make much more,” the title of the image provided reads. So it feels as though people with views parallel to Hughes’ seem to care more about the profit margin and the ability to keep the industry going, even barely, than they do about preserving the art of reading, physical books, and the artistry of the publishing industry and the writing industry as it was before technology.
I also found this article titled, “50 things that are being killed by the internet,” and for some reason, it was less depressing than the last two I mentioned. Though it doesn’t directly speak about the publishing or writing industry, I thought it would be a fun read to look through.