By Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, Chief Executive Optimist, Digital Book World
“I think we fit well into this new world. And I’m not so anxious. I’m curious to see, actually, where it lands. But, as an independent bookseller, we’re certainly staying in the conversation. And if 10% or 8% of the books are e-books, that’s fine. There are still a lot of other books to sell, and we will–we will be selling both e-books through our websites and in our stores, and also we will be selling lots and lots of what I’m calling physical books, because that’s really where the market still is the strongest.”
I’m still processing everything about this year’s Book Expo America – the conversations, the debates, the new ideas, initiatives and partnerships – but arguably the most important takeaway for me was a simple one: people in publishing seem to be getting excited about publishing again.
Last year’s BEA felt like a dark cloud was hanging over the entire industry (not to mention over BEA itself), and there was an awkward combination of panic and resignation underlying every conversation about “the future of publishing”. This year, while there were several moments that left me shaking my head in disappointment, there were far more that made me feel like the industry had finally turned a corner and was taking a more proactive role in shaping its own destiny.
While much attention has been given to unfortunate comments made by the likes of Jonathan Galassi and Garrison Keillor, I’d argue that they represent a rapidly shrinking minority, so entrenched in their personal viewpoints that they’re unable to see the big picture. Meanwhile, the majority, far too many of whom are silent or marginalized in public forums, have started to fully embrace the dramatic changes as an exciting time for innovation and reinvention.
Along with Langer’s very pragmatic quote above, three others really summarize my feelings about this past week:
- “The age of abundance makes copyright irrelevant.” – Richard Nash, Founder, Cursor
- “Publishers have done a TERRIBLE job of articulating the work they do and the value they bring to the author/book.” – Dominique Raccah, Co-Founder & Publisher, Sourcebooks
- “It helps the living make a living, and as a byproduct, will help the industry sustain itself.” – Ed Nawotka, Editor, Publishing Perspectives
One year ago, Nash was perceived by many as a radical maverick; today, his ideas about Publishing 3.0 feel more evolutionary than revolutionary, more pragmatic than provocative. His call for drastically revamping the way publishers deal with copyrights and contracts was even echoed by Brian DeFiore, who offered an inspiring manifesto during the “Do eBooks Hurt Authors?” session that I’m hoping he’ll publish somewhere. It has been an underlying theme of many of the conversations happening around eBooks for a while now, but it’s slowly moving to the forefront.
On the panel with DeFiore, Raccah made an excellent case for the value publishers offer authors in a world where DIY resources abound and “disintermediation” has become a fixture in Buzzword Bingo games. Publishing is about so much more than the distribution of physical books, and the sooner publishers themselves remember and embrace that fact, the sooner the tone of the conversation about the future of publishing will shift to more positive ground.
And finally, Nawotka’s 7x20x21 presentation called for “teaching literature backwards,” putting the emphasis on contemporary literature and authors, and tracing their lineages back to the classics, as opposed to the traditionally siloed focus on just the classics. It’s a deceptively simple concept that can and should unite everyone in the industry – from authors, agents and publishers, to bookstores, libraries and educators – with the end result being a more robust and engaged readership, today and tomorrow.
BEA wasn’t perfect by any stretch, but many of its problems were its own, mostly fixable, and not really reflective of the health of the industry it serves. (Important note, that last point.) If the conversation moving forward becomes more about the logistics and less about the necessity, that’s arguably a win for everyone involved.
As you’re preparing for the holiday weekend and the unofficial beginning of Summer, take a minute to reflect on your own takeaways from BEA this year and share them with us. If you were on the show floor, or attending various panels and presentations, and experienced things that countered some of the negative commentary that will inevitably get more press coverage, be sure those who weren’t there in person get the full picture.
What one thing made you especially excited this week?