Is the book over?
People in the publishing business are going crazy trying to navigate a changing world. It’s “impossible” to get fiction published. All the bookstores are going out of business. The book, along with magazines and newspapers, is headed for the pulp mill of history.
Lately we’ve been hearing these comments about books and publishing, often from people who work in the business (publishing, that is—we don’t know anyone in the pulp mill business): editors, publicists, and of course, authors. We also hear from readers, but often in the form of a question: “Are books going to be with us much longer?” And yet every one expresses deep affection for books and reading.
Given all this doubt, does it even make sense to want to write books anymore? Is it time to move on from the old print medium, and even the old text medium, print or digital, into the new online world of hypertext, video, virtual reality, and other media we haven’t even imagined?
The second part of that question is easy: of course we should move into the new world. That is what we human beings do. We love an adventure, and nothing is going to stop us, except for the occasional blackout.
As for the first part—does it make sense to write books, whether print or electronic, anymore—to us, lovers of reading and writing, the answer is unequivocal. It is not a matter of whether, but how we can get our words down on, uh, paper, and out into the world, and maybe make some money doing it.
Why? Because we love the written word. We love to express ourselves through this means, and we love to read other people’s work. Books have left such a deep imprint on our lives that we cannot remember a moment when they were not a part of us. We love stories, and we love learning about the world through the vivid and personal voice of an author—whether anonymous, contemporary, ancient, or as immediate as the evening news.
We have no objection to the other media that have been created, and we worry about the health of bookstores and the publishing industry, because these have brought us many beloved books. We work in the business and we support it. But stores and publishing houses will comes and go, as will authors. What will live on is the written word. The written word is an essential component of civilization, and we’re betting on civilization sticking around.
The Author Enablers are Kathi Kamen Goldmark and Sam Barry—authors, publishing pros and founders of the Rock Bottom Remainders. They write a monthly column about writing and publishing for BookPage. Got questions? Email them.