Publishers' shibboleths vs the future of publishing

Paul Di Filippo sent me this editorial by Richard Nash, founder of Soft Skull Press (publishers of the Get Your War on books): "Why Publishing Cannot Be Saved (As It Is)." It's a ass-kicking take on the hackneyed cliches of those who discuss the future of the publishing industry ("Twitter/DRM/Facebook/copyright law will save us!") and is worth reading for this incredibly smart thing alone: "books are orders of magnitude more demanding of our minds than any other media."

The question increasingly arises in today's media: can publishing be saved? No. It cannot and should not. There are plenty of non-profit publishers that exist to create and distribute the un-economic content. For-profit publishing should not be saved — it should figure out new business models, ones that offer services that both readers and writers want and are happy to pay for. We cannot wait for a deus ex machina to descend. (In other words, neither MySpace, nor Twitter, nor price-fixing, nor some new piracy-inducing extension of copyright law will save publishing — we simply need to start doing business better.)

What are those services? It's premature to state definitively, but we need to start with the conversation, so that we can listen to what the readers want. Clearly the reading group is the best thing that happened to publishing in the past 30 years — while reading is solitary, talking about books is social. Given that books are orders of magnitude more demanding of our minds than any other media, they are commensurately better reflections of our minds and identities than other media. We publishers should be servicing readers' desire to communicate about themselves with peers, offering books as the basis for connecting.

We're also going to have to recognize that reading increasingly is writing — readers are writing back in all sorts of ways, commenting on books, re-mixing books as in fan fiction, or creating from scratch, and publishers, rather than barring this activity, or hiding from it, need to embrace it and find ways to serve it.

Why Publishing Cannot Be Saved (As It Is)