Manuscripts Burn


"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov

Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Why the sky is, perhaps, not falling

I'd like to take a few moments of your time to regale you with my thoughts on the coming apocalypse. Not the zombie apocalypse (a post for another time) or the much overhyped Mayan end of times (which may better be described as a society-sized version of the re-stock note at the end of your desk calendar.) No, I'm talking about the end of publishing.

(I'm allowing time for you to panic, Glenn Beck style.)

Yes, that's right, if you're an ordinary civilian you have no idea what i'm talking about, but if you are a member (real or aspirational) of the publishing industry you are nodding in grim agreement. "Too true," you're saying, "I've read countless stories about the death knells of the book as a thing." And right you are about the phenomenon, and far be it for me to have an opinion on the matter, but here's my opinion on the matter:

I think it's bullshit.

Now, if you know me in real life (or, indeed, really even from this blog) you know that I'm a contrarian. But in this case I'm not being contrary just for the hellz of it. I just think it's kind of a stupid concept. The basic conceit is this: with the advent of e-readers, due to basic pricing and access realities, people will no longer buy "dinosaur" books from brick and mortar "stores." Furthermore, since people just plain don't read anymore, at least, not books, the novel is dead and only super-ridiculous bestsellers by Dan Brown will ever be published again.

I'm exagerrating a bit, but if you know what I'm talking about, you know what I'm talking about, and if you don't, that's the Reader's Digest version. ("Reader's Digest version?" What a quaint and soon-to-be-archaic expression!)

So, here are my thoughts. First of all, I don't think the publishing industry is dead or really even dying, but just changing. And not like, to a solely e-books distribution system, that's bullshit. "Real" books will be around forever and not because of their inherent value or any kind of reason of their mystique, but simply because they fill a niche. Now, don't get me wrong, that niche is changing. As recently as, say, twenty years ago, you had three or four options for entertainment at your house: read a book, watch TV, play a video game, or do some knitting or some other crafty bullshit. That was what people did. So books sold like gangbusters. It was like 1/4 of what you could do at home.

Now the computer has eclipsed virtually all of what you can do at home. If you're in my generation you probably spend more time on the computer than almost anything else when you're at home, including watching TV, which used to be your baseline level of entertainment for idiots. Back then there was a preconception (tell me your parents didn't tell you this a hundred times a year) that smart people read and stupid people watched TV, given a choice. Now smart people and stupid people use the internet and there's just not much time for reading at home. Even if you want to, the new idiot's lantern will suck you in as soon as you sit down with a book.

"But, Redleg," you're saying, "Doesn't this all just prove the party line? That nobody reads anymore and publishing is dying and blah blah blah?" Quiet with your leading questions, straw man. That is true, but this is leading me into a greater point: radio. "Radio isn't a point," you reply, "It's just a word." Shut up, straw man, I'm trying to make a point here. What did people in the '30s do at home? Pretty much listen to the radio or die of cholera. Nowadays, when was the last time you listened to the radio at home? Quite possibly never. I don't think I even have a radio in my house. But when was the last time you listened to radio PERIOD? I'd wager earlier today, if not right now. Because, if you're reading this at work, you've probably got a radio on in the background, and if not presently, you almost certainly listened to the radio during your commute this morning.

So what does any of this have to do with anything? Simple. Books are the new radio. Everyone said when television came along that radio would just disappear. Well, it didn't, because it still had a niche, filling our cars and workplaces with smooth oldies and mindless DJ blather. Similarly, books still have a niche. When was the last time you took your laptop on the beach? Or a plane? (Well, okay, maybe you did, but God, what a sad person you are if that's what you do.) Books are just going to shift to the left a little bit.

"Well, okay," you're saying at this point, "I get why maybe the novel isn't a dead art form, because it's like a modern day radio and people still want it, only in different place. But what about the way you get it? Won't everyone just get e-readers?"

Well, first of all, I want you to ask yourself a question. When was the last time you met someone who owned an e-reader? Okay, truth be told, if you're a publishing industry professional, you damn well may know someone like that. But a real, regular, honest-to-God person who just went out and bought it? I don't know anyone like that. Do you? Probably not. And here's the reason:


Sorry. This is really the point of the whole article here. If you're a blogger or a writer or an agent or whatever, you've spent so long over the past year or so worrying about e-readers that you probably didn't notice that nobody in the general public gives a shit. And you know why? For the same reason the Kin failed. It's so specific it's useless. Nobody wants one. Nobody owns one. Sorry to burst all your publishing industry myths, there, guys. People might buy e-books when they can get it on their iPhones, but as it stands right now, why are you going to carry around a Nook, a Kin, a GPS, and a cell phone for a bunch of individual functions when your smart phone can do it all on one?

So, sure, e-books will take off to some extent. To the extent that people love fancy new technologies and will buy anything. But when you get down to brass tacks, have you ever bought your uncle a software download for Christmas? Have you ever gone to school and the teacher said, "Open your .pdf files to page 7?"

Anyway, that's my useless opinion and you're all welcome to it. Back to the story on Friday.

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