Tuesday, September 15, 2009

rar, terribly busy week

Not sure what else I have to post, anyway. But. Quick murmurs--

You guys must already have heard that the Philadelphia libraries are all closing, effective October 2? In case you haven't, blow-by-blow here. (Via Carol) Besides all the obvious reasons to be horrified by public libraries' going under, I want to add on a publisher's note that this will affect everyone seeking publication now and in the future--library buys help us make up our first print runs, and without them, we would not be able to afford to print riskier/more literary titles at all. So I foretell a widespread closing of libraries will lead to fewer publications of literary fiction, debut novels, and poetry, among other things.

Here's a nuanced and VERY detailed treatment of the real state of publishing (good, bad, ugly, stupid, but mostly realistic) inspired by the annual industry professionals survey (via JES). This article is intended, I think, for insiders (like me) but if you can bear to slog through it there's a LOT of interesting data about things we shouldn't be worried about and are, and things we aren't worried about and shouldn't be. Some of the salient points (through my personal lens):

-there's no job security, and this has all kinds of negative effects
-a lot of people in charge of acquisitions are dreamers, and aren't sensible about the business side of things, and need to get real
-WAY to many books are published each year, with a lot of "sameness" and fighting for profits by doing MORE of what we think worked in the past--which basically creates mediocrity and causes consumers to lose faith and interest
-the entire financial model we run off of is totally screwy
-at the end of the day, when we get real and fix all the bull$hit here, there will still be books, and still be publishing

(this has all made me want to write my own manifesto, but I'll rein it in--for now...)

Finally, since everything else is bad news, some art for your delectation!!

This is my Etch-a-Sketch portrait of the Rally Monkey. I think it is evidence of a rather stunning natural ability on my part--would you ever have guessed this was my first-ever time with an Etch-a-Sketch?! You'd totally be able to pick him out of a crowd, right? It's a nearly photographic rendering!! (Erm...please no one show this "art" to his mother.)


Ann Victor said...

For someone living in a country with a shocking rate of illiteracy, to hear of libraries in a first world country like America closing down is just too awful to process.

At least the artistic rendering of Rally Monkey cheered me up. I feel I know him so well I could pick him out of a crowd!

Michael Reynolds said...

Of course libraries are closing down. Books are going digital -- new books, old books, all books.

It's sad because it's a world we enjoy. It's familiar. But just as you don't see a lot of livery stables in major cities you won't see many libraries.

Publishers really need to get a lot more serious about the future or the job prospects of editors are going to get a whole lost worse. Right now, today, this minute, very motivated, very smart, well-paid folks at Google and Amazon and Apple are plotting the destruction of publishing as we know it.

Meanwhile publishers are just now discovering something called a "web page." They're so far behind it will take the publishing equivalent of a Manhattan Project to catch up. 5 years from now publishing will be where newspapers are today, and the bookstore will be where Blockbuster video is today. And I see very little evidence that publishers are even beginning to get it.

Jm Diaz said...

I think this was a good post, but I can't seem to focus, or even recall anything other than Rally Monkey.

Laurel said...

I just don't have the heart to google the state budget of PA. But I'd bet enough money to keep the libraries running that they are spending gazillions of state dollars on crap nobody wants, needs, or maybe even knows about.

The state of publishing article was interesting. Two things in particular caught my eye: the importance of sales and resistance to moving into the digital era.

A mediocre product can move really well with a motivated sales force. But wait! Salespeople with major publishing houses don't work on commission, right? Hmmm. The most important rung in the ladder between creating the product and getting the consumer to plunk down cash for it seems to be treated like a glorified courier in publishing. "Here. Take our catalogue around to your accounts. Sell a little, sell a lot. We don't care which ones even though we have to buy back the returns. Good luck!"

And Michael is right. Somebody is going to crack the digital code on books and blow the doors off. Then everyone else will be playing catch up. And it won't take ten years. It will happen over a couple.

Books will not go away but there has to be a way to reach the consumers who are comfortable or even prefer the digitized version. They aren't going away, either. Look at movie rentals and CD sales. Not quite the same, but close. This absolutely does not change the role of acquisitions since they still have to figure out what will sell but somebody in marketing needs to figure out how to sell it.

bingol said...


How are you addressing these ongoing changes with the Gone series?

Natasha Solomons said...

Always thought the Rally Monkey had to be a handsome dude.

Dreamstate said...

I am all for technology and very excited about what digital publishing has in store for us...

That said, I do not think the parents of the world will sit back and allow libraries to go the way of livery stables for the primary reason that libraries are inspiring for children. As much as my kids love the computer and the Internet, looking at a list of titles available on Amazon does not get them excited the way our weekly trips to the library does. They scramble through the stacks, read ten books each on the spot, and pick out a dozen more to take home. A library is not a hub that merely exists to shunt book from place to place, it is a way of life and a place to foster a lifelong love of reading. And as long as there are readers (regardless of whether they read paper or plastic), there will be libraries.

SM Schmidt said...

Ya know, Salinas made national news when they said they were going to close their city libraries. First place to ever threaten/punish the voters for not letting the politicians do whatever they wanted.

Today though, those libraries are open! Philadelphia needs to cut out the waste in their budget like Salinas did and find a way to keep them open! Even if it's reduced hours and volunteer staff.

I must say my Etch-a-Sketch skills extend to a box...and that's about it. I just like to shake it to hear the sand move.

Bitterly Books said...

"WAY too many books are published each year, with a lot of 'sameness' and fighting for profits by doing MORE of what we think worked in the past--which basically creates mediocrity and causes consumers to lose faith and interest"

How do you think that this problem can be solved? Whenever I see this argument, the person using has always gone on to complain about how other publishers need to start being more selective about the number of titles they put out.

Do you think that there's a viable way for publishers to produce fewer titles without reducing staff? And if not, who is going to "take one for the team" and stop drawing a paycheck so that the publishing world can get better without them?

Rosemary said...

So the publishing news is less than comforting, and I am sorry about that.

On the upside, RM's a looker!

Gem said...

Re the comment from Michael;

there would only be no need for libraries if all information (not just books) becomes available for free on devices that you can get for free and can be accessed over free-to-use services.

Comparing a library to a livery stable is only a viable example if livery stables lent out horses to people for free. And maybe if they stocked camels, ostriches, ponies and the odd shark for people to have a go riding on as well.

Libraries aren't just about books. Their importance goes back to the days where information (fiction / non fiction / news / magazines) could only be accessed by those with the money to do so. Libraries are supposed to be there to address this issue, so that no matter how poor someone is, they would never lack the opportunity to read, to learn, to improve themselves.

So unless people are being handed kindles or e-readers free of charge and being directed to a literary version of Pirate Bay in free wifi spots, there is (currently) no replacement for a library service.1

As for the idea that print books are going to be utterly replaced by digital books... I dunno. Maybe they will. But then again, just because I can see artwork on my computer screen doesn't mean I won't buy a picture to put on my wall.

I really hope that the libraries are going to get the funding they need to stay open. Otherwise the people of Philadelphia are being left information poor. Knowledge is power, after all.

Andrea Cremer said...

I'm terribly depressed about Philly, but thanks for the informative links. Good luck with your busy week.

Anna Claire said...

Ugh. Depressing about Philly libraries.

On the upside, RM's portrait is awesome. Those eyebrows! They're amazing!

JES said...

What Gem said about libraries. I think Michael's right about the need for publishers to embrace new technologies, but when they do so it's going to be a whole new cool world only for people who can themselves afford to embrace new technologies.

One hopes that the RM has a beard in real life. It's probably not a bad rendering, and I like the Cubist feel of it. Which had to have been intentional.

Chris Eldin said...

If I ever get published, you are soooo commissioned to do the cover art.

Bruce Pollock said...

In honor of the week of my latest book's publication, I already posted the Dan Menaker article on my Facebook page.

Anonymous said...

Ben Franklin is turning in his grave about now, as he and The City of Brotherly Love were the first to have libraries (or so I dimly recall from history). Please, God, let the PA state legislature find the money to keep these libraries open.

Go hug a librarian today. I mean it! And fuss at state legislators who would even DREAM about cutting funding for libraries!

Marilynn Byerly said...

On the other hand, here in the Triad of NC where unemployment is high and our factories are dying, my city just finished a major expansion of our public library with voted bond money and the tax payers' recent blessing to continue stocking it. Hours have been shortened a bit, but the library is still very popular with no chance of being closed.

Anita said...

Thank God you added the Rally Monkey sketch at the end of this post...I was just about to jump off a mountain. Philly closing libraries? You've got to be kidding me!

littlepurpleroom said...

Our little library out here in the middle of nowhere just recently took a written poll on the programs people would agree to being cut.

One was reducing DVD acquisition as far as entertainment DVD's and staying with instructional one's.

I have volunteered at my libray and loved it.
We also bought our land and built our house using the library as our main source of entertainment for 2 years while we saved for a down payment.

I would pay a fee to join the library before I would ever want to see it close. But it probably is just is a matter of time.

When even one library is forced to shut down ,we are all screwed.

P.S I have no idea who this Monkey guy is... he looks pretty HOT. But then I have always been a sucker for facial hair and any guy named Monkey.

Lydia Sharp said...

Fortunately, the libraries in my district seem to be doing okay. Just within the past 3 years, we had a brand new one built, another torn down and rebuilt, and yet another completely renovated.

There's a reason why printed pages have been in use as long as they have. I don't see all libraries going away as soon as has been predicted. At the very least (if things really do go the way some think they will), they can be used as an archive. It's so easy for people to jump on the nay-sayer's bandwagon and preach doom and gloom.
Although, I understand it's hard to see past the end of your own nose when it's smudging a computer screen 24/7. There are still plenty of people out there that make use of their library, and that like to read paper-bound books (and yes! they like newspapers and magazines, too! no way!). You just don't hear their side of the debate as often because they aren't married to their laptop.

Michael Reynolds said...

Re: the question of what I'm doing to adapt GONE to the digital future:

About twice a month I write some crazy email to my publishers who politely ignore me.

Sometimes I build mock-ups of one of the ways for major pubs to stay in business. Here's one: http://getfre.com

The danger to the publishers is simple: writers don't need publishers to transmit words from our computers to theirs. All we need is someone to collect the price of a download.

Put bluntly: we can do business directly with Amazon or iTunes and cut the publishers and bookstores out entirely. No editors, no printers, no bookstores. That's not future technology, that's right now technology.

It will be especially easy for established authors who already have name recognition. Amazon or iTunes will soon go on a little shopping spree and sign up a couple dozen top authors for e-book exclusives. They can afford to offer huge royalties -- 70% maybe.

If the headliners move to e-books the publishing model dies almost overnight. It's the big hitmakers -- Meyer, King, Patterson, Brown -- who pump cash into the system. If they go, publishing dies faster than you can believe.

The instinct among publishers will be to defend what they have. That's a mistake. They need to create a new vision of the book -- one that incorporates more media, not one that focuses on salvaging the current business model. That's what my very small demo is about: making books a much more multimedia, connected creature. Probably ad-supported in addition to downloadable. Certainly customizable -- you want a version with no R-rated language, no problem.

Those are things big companies can do better than individual authors -- that's why the frebook demo favors big multi-media companies like Newscorp, Disney, etc...

Of course this appals book lovers. What? No paper? What? Advertising? Product placement? Video and pix and music? A travesty, you'll never replace the wonder of the printed word on a page, blah, blah, blah.

The thing to remember is this: newspapers said the same thing. The online newspaper is NOT a better aesthetic experience, it's worse. It's filled with annoying pop-ups and banner ads and sudden noise. But it doesn't matter: it's still killing the paper newspaper. Just like a cramped seat on Delta is not better than a leisurely voyage on the Queen Mary. Just like a noisy rattletrap Model-T is not better than an elegant carriage.

It doesn't have to be better by every metric than books. The digitalization will proceed nevertheless.

It's not true that kids read less than they used to, I think they read more. They just read differently, on screens not paper, in fragments not in long pieces, while sharing attention between a dozen different inputs. We need to create reading experiences for those kids.

By the way, just wait until it occurs to someone that digital is more ecological than paper. No paper, no trucks, no air conditioned stores . . .

Michael Reynolds said...

By the way, if you click on the getfre demo, remember to hit the 'next page' buttons onscreen. (An instruction no one under the age of 15 needs.)

Kim Kasch said...

I don't usually vote for new taxes but whenever the library comes up on the ballot in Multnomah County, I've always voted for it. Because without books, we are an ignorant society.

And, I grew up in a family with 9 kids - Mom and Dad couldn't always go buy me books. Thank God for the library!

JES said...

Michael: I've seen your analyses before and have a lot of sympathy for what you say; as an author, I look forward to much of its coming to pass.

But, y'know, it's not just "book lovers" you give short shrift to: you're dismissing readers as a whole class. Why? Because in that golden future when we're all uploading straight to Amazon or Google Books or whatever takes their place, readers won't be able to figure out which of all those "books" are worth spending more than an hour on.

And, as numerous people have pointed out, until you can put an e-reader -- or heck, just a computer -- in everyone's hands, not just the ones who can afford them, your arguments say, Well, it's a shame, but there's always gotta be collateral damage.

Please don't stop pushing for the wave of the future. But I hope you'll get a grip on your Future Uber Alles instincts every now and then, and hesitate a few minutes before hitting the Publish Your Comment button.

Jenny said...

That link about the libraries broke my heart. I love my library so, so much. I wish I had given it a hug when I went there earlier today.

Michael Reynolds said...


I'm not giving short shrift to anyone. I'm making an informed guess about the future.

If I'm wrong, fine. If I'm right what am I failing to do in your estimation? Is it that I'm not holding people's hands?

I'm actually trying to find a way forward that preserves something of the publishing industry. I like the publishing industry, it's been very nice to me. But nostalgia won't save them anymore than it saved the music business, newspapers, videotape or DVD.

storyqueen said...

I guess we'll just have to start an Underground Library Movement, and have hidden libraries with passwords and secret handshakes. They can't shut us down if they can't find us!!!

I think I want my next author pic to be done on a etch-a-sketch.


Lydia Sharp said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rebecca Knight said...

Storyqueen, I love that idea! :D We need plush couches and cool rollback desks and, and.... I'm too excited by the idea of secret handshake underground libraries!

Horserider said...

If my local library closes down I might actually go insane. It's where I get most of my books, especially in these tough times. I can't afford to buy that many books, but I can afford to walk out of the library with a stack half my height. :D

Donna Gambale said...

I'm actually from Philadelphia. I work in the city, and I was THRILLED to discover I had a branch a half block from my office. Last week, I went to return a book, and I saw the sign about October 2nd -- I was in complete denial. It's so heartbreaking, and a complete disgrace, and I hope that somehow it doesn't happen!

Chris Eldin said...

Speaking of libaries, I went yesterday to our local branch to reserve a copy of "Catching Fire." I'm number 81 on the waiting list.
I think there's a HUGE, albeit silent, group who *will* become very vocal if library funding starts getting cut.

Also during our visit, Thing 2 checked out the last Harry Potter book. At 3,000 pages, I was wondering how he was going to plow through it. Then when I saw him reading the last ten pages, I understood. He wanted to know what would happen to Harry, so he could read the rest of the series in peace.

BuffySquirrel said...

I'm fascinated to know how I'm supposed to borrow a digital book from a non-existent library.

CKHB said...

Oh, no! ALL the Philly libraries?

And... there is NO WAY that's your first use of an Etch-a-Sketch. I'm not buying it.

Cat Moleski said...

The Philadelphia library closings are not just about print versus digital. Yes, digital is here to stay providing our society does not completely collapse, but libraries were created by Benjamin Franklin to educate the public. Just as public schools were created to educate the public because our founding fathers believed that an educated public was the best way to guarantee the survival of our republic, to keep our democracy from reverting to a monarchy, and I will add, a dictatorship, or a theocracy.

When I hear about the libraries closing or that college that is giving away their books and replacing them with a few big screens and a few (18) kindles, (sorry can’t remember the name of the school) it makes me think that it is more about access than media. People with money from the very rich right down to the lower middle class and even some in the ‘lower’ class, will always be able to - or make it a priority to - buy a kindle and a book (if that’s all there is available some day when all the trees are gone and we’ve used up all the paper). But without free access to multiple copies of works, some people will be shut out, or discouraged from seeking out information that could help them move up the social ladder, or just make life more bearable, fun, enjoyable, rich, or plan a revolution, or ask for social change.

I think this is an indication of a change in the way our society looks at its responsibility to its members. Is education/access to information a right, a requirement of a citizen, or a privilege to be purchased? Does our society value educated and informed people, or is this just a subtle way of leaving some people behind?

Charles Gramlich said...

My condolences to the Rally Monkey. That's a horrible swelling on his left cheek there.


That news about the libraries is horribly disturbing, though. What is WRONG with folks.

Cat Moleski said...

It was Cushing Academy, via Colleen Lindsay Twitter.

Michael Reynolds said...


Start here:


bingol said...


That getfre link is fascinating. The book doesn't look half-bad, either!

Recently sold my first YA (first of a series, too), and I'm increasingly aware that I need to get up to speed on this stuff. It's v. promotable, but I'm not sure the publisher is the one who's gonna do the promotion, despite my planned 'crazy emails'.


Jo said...

RM looks hot!

Crystal Posey said...

Your Etch-a-Sketch is AWESOME and that is so funny! Love it.

absentchaos said...

My friend's been trying to get me to move from NC to the Philly area of PA for a couple months. This post makes me want to stay in NC, where at least we have libraries (yes, ones that people actually use).