The Future of the Book

by Ben Temchine, producer 

Which would you rather own: a newspaper or a book publisher?  What about a poke in the eye with a stick?  The collapse of the book publishing industry has been prophesied for decades, but it finally looks like it is coming true.  Publisher’s Weekly called 2009 “the worst year for publishing in decades.” The major publishing houses— Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, HarperCollins, Doubleday and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt—are in a race to shed jobs, a race Random House has been winning during their multi-year reorganization. Membership in the American Booksellers Association is down 75% in ten years.  Not that the corporate behemoths are doing so well: Borders is nearly certain to go bankrupt and Barnes & Noble may just be pushing the inevitable farther down the road.

Lousy economy.  Worse business model.  An American public that just isn’t that into reading more than 140 characters at a pop.  Pick your reason, there is a no question that the businesses that connect readers of long form narratives to the people who write them will be vastly different in ten years.

This weekend, our program begins a three-part series taking the long view of the publishing industry.  We’re speaking with visionaries about the future that is already here, the entrepreneurs trying to find where the money is hidden and authors and booksellers navigating the new world with no map to guide them. What is the future of the book?  Would you be happy to read most of your long narratives on one or another screens, and only buying the dead tree version for special—read expensive—editions?  Do you have a kindle? iPad?  Are you reading Moby Dick one postage-stamp sized page at a time?  If the publishers fall, would you care or even notice? 

Do you have an idea to save publishing?  Let us know.  We’ll pass it on.  It’s just as likely to work as most of the ideas being tried out there.