I'm no good at keeping secrets, everyone knows that. And I definitely like chatting about the things I care about, another well-known fact. This is why as soon as I manage to wrap my head around something, I hop right on my blog to share it with all of you, my precious twenty-five readers 🙂
So here's what's going to happen, or better yet, what's already happening to books:
- The most important changes are always marked (and sometimes even caused!) by changes in the language. Well, the word "book" is increasingly being used to indicate the electronic version of the same. So much so that it will soon drop the prefix "e" (and has already lost the hyphen, going from "e-book" to "ebook"). Instead it will be the paper book which, every time you talk about it, will have to explicitly specify its support, as in "paper-book", or "paper", or "p-book", or (scandalous!) "dead-tree book". [Bonus Hint: anyone who underestimates subtle linguistic changes will never be able to foresee future events.]
- This is a terrible time for paper books. Even worse than the most hardcore pessimist could have imagined. I don't have any official firsthand numbers, but if anyone asked me how massive the paper book market plunge will be at the end of 2012 I would say that it'll probably be between 20 and 35%. In fact, the market has given strong indications over recent weeks that the magnitude will tend more towards 30% and beyond, instead of 20% (similar, and perhaps even more disastrous, is the paper magazine trend, but let's just talk about books for now).
- This is a terrible time to be a Big Publisher, unless you can abruptly discard all the pseudo-security you've lived off of (so irresponsibly) up until now. What's the Italian outlook from this point of view? Not very good: at least one or two big publishers will soon be facing serious problems of survival. Sorry, but you had been warned. And who knows, perhaps with a jolt, you may still be able to save yourselves…
- This is a great time to be a publisher: as long as you're a new publisher, or an old publisher (this is harder) capable of ridding yourself of all the encrusted debris accumulated during the past, i.e., able to reinvent yourself. You want a sign? I'll give you two: self-publishing (which is pure publishing, at the expense of each individual author); Amazon, which is also pushing in this direction, publishing books and authors like a publisher.
- This is a great time for skilled translators who are joining the movement to give life to true publishing initiatives: they can reach everywhere with a single book, at low costs and in remarkably short times. See "I Dragomanni", worth keeping an eye on (they say they're not a publishing company, but don't believe them…).
- This is a terrible time for literary agents who base their livelihood on reading and screening manuscripts, and more or less having the right connections with conventional publishers: these skills are worth nothing now, or almost nothing.
- This is an outstanding time to become a literary agent. It doesn't only require intuitive skills, but also (Gasp!) technical skills, and even some knowledge of statistics and analytics: the immense and ever-growing self-publishing community can't wait.
- This is a terrible time for bookstores: not only for the so-called (ah, language!) physical bookstores, but also for online bookstores which, after all, still base the majority of their sells on paper books (and we all know how those are doing). And dealing with the issue by opening a restaurant inside the bookstore doesn't mean you've solved the bookstore problem, it just means you've changed jobs: now you run a restaurant furnished with a few books.
- This is a great time to open a bookstore: not one, but many. Not just physical or online bookstores, but anywhere, as long as it's near (physically or online, it doesn't matter) the places where people already go to share their interests: the stand with the right books at the back of the concert hall, or the right online shelf with the right books for heated discussions underway in a forum for barbecue buffs, maybe in place of those annoying banners they have now.
- This is a great time to be a digital distributor: books, now increasingly digital, can and thus want to reach everywhere quickly, and this is the distributor's job. Everyone needs the distributor: authors who self-publish, small publishers, large publishers, and even colossal publishers. Only Mondadori – sorry Ricky! – seems to not get it, deciding to do everything on their own. But soon they'll have to change their mind, or get busy being the distributor for real (and it's a little late to start now): even the Mondadori books can – and therefore want – to reach everywhere, and everywhere means everywhere, including the online bookstores of the most outlying villages of the world, including bookstores that don't even exist yet: and the faster the better! Amazon, on the other hand, which is now also a publisher, gets it: everyone feared that the Big Monopolist, which went from being a global bookseller to a Global Publisher, would keep everything for itself. But no, the Amazon people are no fools: the titles published by Amazon will be sold worldwide. And in order to do this they will rely on a distributor (Ingram in this case).
- This is a terrible time to be a Big Author on contract with a Big Publisher. The Big Publisher has its own serious problems to deal with right now, see above.
- This is a great time to be an author: The usual kind of author, one who thinks he has a little talent and wants to give it a go. The one who studies, applies himself and tries to improve. Now he can find thousands of ways to get assistance, quickly receive high-quality feedback from readers and attempt to sell his books any and everywhere. Even if only to quickly understand that it's not his true calling.
So all is well in ebookland? Will the book survive thanks to digital technology?
"Where there is danger / there also grows that which will save us", reminds Hölderlin. But this statement should also be read in the other direction: "Where there grows that which will save us (digital technology in our case) / there is also great danger".
The book is in danger. That which we understand as the book experience is in danger. This is why, and I'm increasingly convinced of this, all those who really care about this experience and want to guarantee it for generations to come should get involved, at least a little, in the Slow Reading Manifesto: check it out, and maybe you can give me a hand.