A pair of articles has arrived simultaneously in my mailbox, from far different periodicals but on the same topic: the future of publishing. What's interesting is that both say the same thing, in different words.
TIME magazine profiles four books that started out self-published and ended up on the NY TIMES best-seller list, garnered million-dollar movie deals, or both. The article also covers all the reasons traditional publishing is antiquated (the advance system, the returns system, the distribution system). It quotes PUBLISHERS WEEKLY'S prediction that 2009 "will be the worst year for publishing in decades." But not for the oft-quoted reason that people aren't reading. In fact, a new NEA study, released January 12, finds that fiction reading by adults has actually increased 3.5% since 2002. So if traditional publishing is tanking, what are those adults reading?
Non-traditional publishing, which includes e-books (especially Amazon's Kindle), print-on-demand books, on-line fiction, manga, graphic novels. They're also listening to fiction on podcasts. In Japan, cell-phone novels -- which are first written on, broadcast by, and read on -- actual cell phones, accounted for 4 out of 5 of Japan's most-read novels. In TIME'S words, publishing is evolving into "something cheaper, wilder, trashier, and more democratic."
Meanwhile, in the SFWA BULLETIN, Barry Malzberg and Mike Resnick continue their dialogue on SF. Although in a previous dialogue both pooh-poohed self-publishing, in this installment they point out all the non-traditional readers at Comicon, a gigantic gathering of comic book fans held annually in San Diego. Malzberg and Resnick's point is that SF writers are beginning to discover they can sell regular books to non-regular readers, if they make the push to do so. But the sales of graphic novels, comics, and manga far, far outstrip books.
The essence of both these articles: The publishing times are a-changin'. Hardcover books chosen by editors and backed by corporations will always be there, but will become "only the tip of a huge pyramid" of publishing. Will this be good or bad for writers? It probably depends on the writer, and on the kind of things he or she writes. Editors' tastes do not always match readers' tastes. Lisa Genova's book STILL ALICE, which was turned down by every agent and publisher she contacted, is #5 on this coming Sunday's NY TIMES bestseller list.
I also received a third magazine in the mail: the March ASIMOV'S. It contains a story I'm proud of, "Act One." The story is about genetic engineering, the movie business, and just how much empathy the human race can stand. Despite its venue being a part of traditinal publishing, I still hope my story will be read.