IVP - Strangely Dim - Is 2029 to Publishers What 2012 Was to Mayans?!?!?

June 2, 2009

Is 2029 to Publishers What 2012 Was to Mayans?!?!?

A note to Likewise authors from the Washington Post: "Word of mouth has long been the holy grail of book marketing." Tell all your friends.

But for goodness' sake, don't tell them in person or over the phone. Send them an e-mail with a URL for your book page; group-message them on Facebook with an embedded link; blog about it; tweet about it. Display it, don't say it. The mouth has gone digital.

My friend Mr. Steve turned me on to this report from BookExpo America, only the latest industry-wide hand-wringing to take place among publishers in light of an economic downturn and a technological shift to a paperless (surely that doesn't mean bookless?) society. According to some, including authors of recently printed and bound and pricey books about information longing to be free, publishing is not moving inevitably into extinction, but it does desperately need a facelift and a tummy tuck.

The world may end, according to the Mayans, in 2012, but on the off chance it doesn't, the printed book may vanish by 2029. In its place will be digital content that transcends particular platforms such as the Kindle, let alone paper and ink. That digital content, we're invited to presume, will emerge 140 characters at a time, as Twitter and Facebook and other social networking locales become greenhouses for long-form content.

If I may borrow from Battlestar Galactica, all this has happened before and will happen again. It's not so much ideas and art that live and die; it's the media through which those ideas and art are conveyed, and the architects and profiteers of those media. Such has been the dilemma of news, which is experiencing a shift from newsprint to something else as we speak, and music, which has provided its own moribund soundtrack for the past few decades as the corporate giants of the recording industry shrink while indie music on Myspace grows. Again from the Post:

The music industry, broadly defined--which includes bands, fans, concerts, recordings, iPods, etc.--is thriving, [Wired editor Chris Anderson] said. It is only the major labels, with their foolish attempt to cling to the CD model, that crashed.

Trust me, those of us in the "major labels" of book publishing (even us minor leaguers) are strategically stroking our beards and scratching our heads over this. But again, dear authors, you're not off the hook. If Facebook and Twitter are the breeding grounds of the new literati (and not of the new illiterati, as their naysayers might suggest), then writers need to figure out what art looks like in those media, how ideas there germinate and sprout and blossom and flourish, and what shape such a fully evolved idea ought to take. If we're going to publish in new ways, we need truly new stuff to publish.

So there you go. Your twenty-year mission, authors, should you choose to accept it, is to change the way we absorb, engage and convey fully conceived ideas. As for us publishers, our twenty-year mission is to figure out how to make money off of it, and of you. So say we all.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at June 2, 2009 8:01 AM Bookmark and Share

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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