Thursday, February 25, 2010

Though Gutenberg's invention made possible our modern world no one, much less Gutenberg himself, could have foreseen his press would have this effect

This blog has written on many occassions about the changing business models for content.

Forgive me therefore for pointing you in the direction of a piece that sums up what has happened in publishing.

It comes from Jason Epstein who writes in the current New York review of books

“The transition within the book publishing industry from physical inventory stored in a warehouse and trucked to retailers to digital files stored in cyberspace and delivered almost anywhere on earth as quickly and cheaply as e-mail is now underway and irreversible. This historic shift will radically transform worldwide book publishing, the cultures it affects and on which it depends. Meanwhile, for quite different reasons, the genteel book business that I joined more than a half-century ago is already on edge, suffering from a gambler’s unbreakable addiction to risky, seasonal best sellers, many of which don’t recoup their costs, and the simultaneous deterioration of backlist, the vital annuity on which book publishers had in better days relied for year-to-year stability through bad times and good. The crisis of confidence reflects these intersecting shocks, an overspecialized marketplace dominated by high-risk ephemera and a technological shift orders of magnitude greater than the momentous evolution from monkish scriptoria to movable type launched in Gutenberg’s German city of Mainz six centuries ago.”

Ht-Stephen Abram


Frederick Glaysher said...

I agree with most of Epstein's overall perspective on the vast changes that are and will take place both in publishing and our culture. We can only speculate on many of them at this early stage. His limitations are those of a traditional publisher, yet he's one who has been central to developing the Espresso Book Machine which promises to go far beyond traditional publishing.

I'm puzzled by Epstein's comment that "fiction is almost never collaborative." When was it ever? I can't think of a single book of fiction or poetry, of the first order, in any culture, that was "collaborative." What would it be? Maybe some of the old early epics, Gilgamesh, as he alludes to, very rare. Even it, in the end, as known to us now, was the work of one great master. Otherwise, a contradiction in terms...

Despite that caveat, I think it's fair to say Epstein has his finger on the pulse of the Post-Gutenberg revolution more than most publishers, though I think he's vastly undervaluing ebooks, though it's understandable, since he's placed all his chips on the Espresso Book Machine. I admit I'm slightly biased in his favor since I have three books available through the Espresso Book Machine.

eBooks will definitely take over much of the market-share of the Espresso Book Machine, POD, and traditional publishing. eBooks solve all the printing and distribution problems of publishing. Most importantly, eBooks solve all the problems confronting the writer and the reader. I'm not interested in solving problems for the mega-corporate publishers; they are the problem. The sooner writers and readers largely get rid of them the better. The Digital Age makes that possible.

I read Epstein's article on my Sony Reader... I'm currently working on putting all my books into ePub and other ebook formats.

Frederick Glaysher said...

My own attempts to understand these transformations, as both a writer and publisher, can be found on my website, if interested:

Publishing in the Post-Gutenberg Age

Frederick Glaysher