Thatch sent through some interesting reading as he regularly does. The article this time was titled “An End of Books” by Seth Godin. It’s not a very long article but for those of us who care about the demise of the printed book and bookshops and the publishing industry, it’s worth reading and reflecting on. In it’s substance I found echoes of my own experiences and thoughts. His observations are a burr to get the thought muscles churning.

The article is not a doom-sayers message but rather a prod to consider the future. From the point of view of someone who has worked in libraries of one sort or another for the greatest part of my working career and who has recently entered the world of publishing; nothing that Seth Godin had to say was news to me.

I still read the article with sadness and I think I heard the sadness that Seth Godin too feels for the passing of books and all that the passing encompasses. What he did say that gave me pause was, “I fear that our cultural and corporate connections to books as a delivery system may blind us to the alternatives.

Without Amazon and CreateSpace and services like those – the Print on Demand book Citizen Jane: Transformative Citizenship in a Globalized World by Jane Sloane would never have seen the light of day. It’s a very worthy book, but the market it is directed at, is niche. I doubt there would have been even one corporate publisher who would have taken it on. It is also the author’s first book. So instead of hawking the book to countless publishers we set about to do it ourselves.

What the new technology has done for this author and this book is allow us to crowd source much of the funding for the manuscript production through Kickstarter and then use CreateSpace to print and deliver, within a matter of days, one or more copies of the finished book to purchasers anywhere in the world. To use social media and a blog to engage with the author’s audience. That’s empowering. Oh, and electronic versions of the book will be available shortly.

What it hasn’t done though is provide the merchandising and publicity support that was the business of the publishers. For independent authors/self publishers this can cause further problems because booksellers are used to dealing with publishers not directly with authors. It brings up all sorts of issues including payments, margins, returns and so on. How do you respond to a bookshop who don’t know how to deal with you because you are an author and not a “real” publisher? If you are happy to simply publish your POD book and let Amazon do the rest then you likely won’t sell too many copies.

It’s a massive learning curve, but I see opportunity here.

Seth Godin is so right when he says that we have to reinvent the business model. While I will personally always prefer a real book – electronic versions aren’t real books in my world; they are an unsatisfactory alternative, but an alternative that we will all probably have to come to terms with sooner or later.

I’ve also seen instances of the decline of ecosystem that he talks about at the University library where I used to work for twenty years. The library had ceased to be a quite place to study and read. In an effort to stay relevant it was filled instead by the noisy chatter of groups sprawled around bays of computer terminals where previously bookshelves had stood. The library extended opening hours, even proposing a coffee shop inside the library. By the time I left, book budgets had been repeatedly slashed in order to pay the staggering sums needed to purchase electronic resources.

I spent much of my time in the last couple of years at the library withdrawing and discarding thousands of volumes from our collections to bring the library in line with the new policy of a library without books. That was the glorious future that our chief librarian had brought back to us after her sojourns to Academic libraries in the States and elsewhere. Nor were we alone in this endeavour, it was an idea that spread like contagion through some of the more poorly funded Australian Academic libraries in an effort to offset the rising costs of electronic resources.

I rescued a small number of those reject books and journals before they were pulped and these are now part of our own home collection packed in boxes added to the other thousands of books in boxes stacked in our spare room. I miss the floor to ceiling bookshelved walls we built into our old house–one day I’d like a home where my books can all be on display again.

Nothing that Seth Godin said was new or incendiary; just what is. Like it or not, the world is changing and books and book publishing with it. Books will possibly again become something that only the affluent or the eccentric will want or be able to afford – somebody (I can’t remember who) postulated that very idea a while back.

As far as I’m concerned the positive thing is that people are reading–whether it’s words consumed on an electronic device or savoured on a paper page is a matter of preference and convenience. Long live the printed book.

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