This much is certain, everything changes. Systems collapse, governments fall, sovereign boundaries shift and always, new things rise up in their place. Empires are not safe.
The publishing industry, in itself an Empire, is right at this very moment on the brink of collapse. Borders Bookstores has fallen. I wonder, as I write this, how much longer Barnes and Noble really has.
People love to ask me about print books. They want to know if I am for the death of words which are bound and glued.
I think they must be sniffing some of that glue.
Any writer worth even a plug nickel is first and foremost a rabid reader. From our earliest days, we have cherished the beauty and music of prose. It is how we learned our craft. There isn’t a professional writer alive today who grew up on eBooks. They simply haven’t been around that long. And if you turn on the thing that made you what you are, then I really have no use for you anyway.
I spent my youth perusing used book stores, seeking out lost treasures. This was before the days of Amazon or Ebay, when tracking down an out-of-print paperback by some beloved author meant more than the kids of today will ever know. Unearthing those wonders on your own, or seeking the sagely advice of the store’s owner for something new, was treasure hunting at its finest.
Every book I own is dog-eared and cracked along the spines. If you look at any book in my library you will know that they were enjoyed. They were loved. They were read. I was never a bookmarker. I was always a page-bender. If I could make the top corner of a Kindle bend, I’d do it in a heartbeat.
There is no animosity in my heart for printed books, and I’d hope there is none in yours whether you are a reader or writer. But the publishing industry, well, that’s a whole other story. That is a system I will gladly watch shuffle off its mortal coil and collapse to the earth in pieces.
Whole generations of authors have been lost to us because they could not penetrate the murky swamps of corporate publishing. I imagine all the works of art that we’ll never know of, simply because the vicious cycle of query-letter, agent, synopsis, publisher, book-seller, and eventual consumer did not work out for that individual.
When an industry coins a phrase like “Slush Pile” to reflect their opinion of where your work belongs, you get a pretty clear idea of your place in their world.
So, to the vanity presses and subsidized publishing contracts, the agents who charge fees or don’t bother to answer carefully crafted query letters from unknowns, the writer’s marketplace guides and all of the parasitic industries that thrived while propping up that rickety machine of traditional publishing, I say, “Farewell.”
I’ll bear witness when you wheeze and gasp, when your last cog is thrown and black smoke escapes from your rusted hull. I do not say this with pride. I say it simply as an observer of history who knows that everything changes. Systems collapse. Empires are not safe.
You folks had a good run.
Now get out of our way.
-- Bernard J. Schaffer
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