Ed. Note: The following is Boing Boing guestblogger Clay Shirky's first post. Clay's traveling today, so I'm posting this one on his behalf. Image above: "Don't believe the Devil, don't beLIEve his book," a CC-licensed photo by Celeste, a Flickr user in Buenos Aires - Argentina. --XJ
Every now and again, there is an essay that is so well written, so cleanly expressed, and so spectacularly wrong that it clarifies something you previously understood only dimly. James Gleick's recent advice to the publishing industry, How to Publish Without Perishing, was that for me.
Gleick's thesis is that publishers are people who sell objects, and he means this not just as a description of their past, but as strategy for their future as well. He makes much of the book as a thing, noting that we talk about "book lovers", but never "CD lovers", he writes of books in terms of possessing them, and his advice to publishers is to cede speed, relevance, and even popularity to digital businesses, and to shift publishing into reverse:
Go back to an old-fashioned idea: that a book, printed in ink on durable paper, acid-free for longevity, is a thing of beauty. Make it as well as you can. People want to cherish it.
This proposed Ye Olde-ing the industry makes the choices faced by publishers suddenly seem more urgent.
There are book lovers, yes, but there are also readers, a much larger group. By Gleick's logic, all of us who are just readers, everyone who buys paperbacks or trades books after we've read them, everyone who prints PDFs or owns a Kindle, falls out of his imagined future market. Read the rest