Friday, December 12, 2008

Ballantine senior editor Mark Tavani shares his thoughts on the state of book publishing today.

My former colleague Mark Tavani, a senior editor at Ballantine Books (where he edits - among others - the wonderful Charlie Huston!) guest blogged over at writer Laura Benedict's blog where he shares his thoughts about the state of book publishing today. He uses a brilliant analogy to illustrate the way that changes in the book business tend to generate hysteria in ways that major changes in other industries don't:
A few months back I read about how Starbucks was shutting down a few thousand locations. I can say I didn’t notice anyone freaking out and running around, screaming about how coffee was going out of fashion. That’s because coffee’s fine, as we all know. People love coffee, and coffee will almost certainly be around for a long time. But the industry had outgrown itself…plus, they were charging something like twelve frickin’ dollars for a grande whatchamahoozit…. But I digress...

Maybe fewer books get published. Maybe some publishing folks have to look elsewhere for a paycheck. I don’t say those things lightly, because I love those books, and I’m one of those publishing folks, and I have a lot of friends in the industry. But on the bright side, maybe fewer books will mean better books. Maybe, over time, books will regain an elite status that I sense they once had. Maybe, in the end, books won’t qualify precisely as mass entertainment, but entertainment for a sizable if select audience.

At any rate, I think that’s a story I could stand to hear told.
It's a great essay and you should absolutely go read the whole thing.


sex scenes at starbucks said...

Anyone who publishes Charlie Huston must be brilliant. And Mr. Tavani is correct that books are "a mere format." I've been reading Huston's free books online, usually inside a couple of hours, barring interruption. I don't care whether I read the paperback or online version--I'm just glad I read them.

JL Riffe said...

In the immortal words of Douglas Adams... " Don't Panic!

Which, I suppose, is easy enough for me to say because I make vitamins for a living and folks are still trying to take care of themselves.

However, it occurred to me after reading "The Sky Isn't Falling" post over at Ms. Reid's blog, that hard times might in fact be good for the industry.

One need only look at the great literary works that was born out of periods of struggle and privation.

Hard times might well light creative candles that in turn will revitalize the industry in ways unforeseen.

...just a thought.

clindsay said...

JL -

Which is exactly what I said here nine days ago...

The sky is still not falling.



JL Riffe said...

Ooops, Sorry. I didn't catch that one. My Blog-scan-o-matic has been on the fritz.

JL Riffe said...

oh... and I defer to your previous statement of Don't Panic

clindsay said...

JL -

I believe that the "don't panic" sentiment is worth repeating. As often as possible. :-)


Josh Jasper said...

fewer books could also mean more big, safe names, and no new breakthrough novels. And more "celeb" novels. And more lowest common denominator.

Ann Victor said...

"...fewer books will mean better books...books will regain an elite status that I sense they once had..."

As both reader and writer I like these words of wisdom!

Anonymous said...

I'm sure that the number % of people reading books in schools is the same as when I went to school. Sure no one picks up an encyclopedia anymore, but that was homework not reading.

I still know people who buy books and have a library at home, and I'm often surprised to visit homes and find a bookshelf.

No changes there.

Of course the industry will change. Now, I don't know anything about the industry, but lets use common sense.

Don't panic. If we live another ten years I'm sure we will have this discussion again. Maybe the bookshelf will be replaced with a hard drive, but someones still reading and paying for a good story.

Heidi C. Vlach said...

My thoughts exactly. Survival-of-the-fittest will hopefully do good things for the industry as a whole.

H. L. Dyer said...

Speaking of "Don't Panic," I photoshopped a little graphic for that purpose last week.

It's posted on my blog (and several other blogs now) if anyone's interested. ;)

Savvy Sharon said...

I could be wrong, but it seems to me that certain industries prosper during fiscally hard times: alcohol, cosmetics, literature, and education. Luckily, my time-consuming, energy-sucking daytime job is in a financial aid office in a college. :-)

Everyone wants to escape their circumstances; I think overall, the fiction industry will do just fine. And if there are fewer books...well, I've come across some pretty crappy ones that shouldn't be taking up shelf-space (they're not taking up mine anymore!). I won't name any, just in case one of them happens to be someone else's all-time favorite read...but I digress. Perhaps quality really is better than quantity.

And LOL--my word verification is "twink". Lord.

ChristaCarol said...

I can agree with him however feel that the "elite books" of yesteryear are of a different standard now. Classics of a few decades ago aren't in today's societies taste (at least the majority, and at least with what I've seen).

Do you think society is condoning less-than-"elite" writing/books? Like they prefer it and don't know what they're missing?

I hope I made sense, my cup of coffee has yet to enter my system.

Jeff said...

I think Josh's prediction is a good one. A tighter market seems more likely to produce more safe books than great books.