Andrew Sullivan recently blogged, "If any industry deserves to go under, it's the publishing industry." See here.
From an earlier Sullivan blog post -- "The future is obviously print-on-demand, and writers in the future will make their names first on the web. With e-distribution and e-books, writers will soon be able to put this incompetent and often philistine racket behind us."
From another -- "The first print-run of my last book was published with an indeterminate number of copies with the pages in the wrong order. I was the only person who noticed. No one at Harper Collins or the printer was able to tell me how many books had been misprinted, or shipped with misprints. They had no idea; and no way to find out."
Andrew Sullivan has published some brilliant books. Virtually Normal, for example, is an open-minded, insightful and entertaining work on the politics of homosexuality. Now Andrew Sullivan is a phenomenal blogger -- the Daily Dish deservedly won the 2008 Weblog Award for Best Blog. (Incidentally, I heard Andrew Sullivan is considering putting out a book of the "View From Your Window" photos, which are actually my least favorite feature of his blog -- perhaps this is because they make me feel like I'm his only reader who has a shitty view from my window. Could it be that posting hundreds of insightful political comments a week, and also lambasting the publishing industry, is actually a cunning marketing strategy for a coffee table book? That's so gay -- just kidding!)
Here's what I keep coming back to about the publishing industry. While the most initially striking thing about this Naomi Alderman article on the future of publishing is how truly terrifying, on how many levels, Stephen King looks holding a Kindle, the most important factoid therein is that roughly ninety-five percent of published books make a loss.
I think many of us writers are vaguely aware of this while also being in emotional denial about it.
This fact has many ramifications. I can imagine that, if I owned a publishing company, and I knew ninety-five percent of the books I published made a loss, I probably wouldn't expend a lot of effort on quality assurance on a book until I was sure it was one of the other five percent.
As a text-delivery mechanism, books have simply become prohibitively expensive and inconvenient to distribute. When I say this, people often respond "oh but books are so beautiful, reading something on a screen just isn't the same," and so on. But books are not necessarily as beautiful as Carolingian illuminated manuscripts, papyrus scrolls, or Shang dynasty oracle bones. And they can also be physically dangerous -- if I'm in my apartment when an earthquake hits, I may well perish under the weight of thousands of obscure volumes. The way my weekend's going, I might even welcome such a fate...