That was the name of the panel that I moderated at this year’s London Book Fair, and which featured Abby Blachly of LibraryThing, Lance Fensterman of Reed Exhibitions (in particular, BookExpo America and New York Comic Con), Bob Stein of the Institute for the Future of the Book, and Mark Thwaite of ReadySteadyBook.com, the Book Depository, and the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.
By design, this panel was more about new methods and ideas about marketing, and about the evolving relationship between publishers and their readers, rather than about how to market a particular book. That said, a lot of the discussion—and the particular ideas presented—centered around more “niche” books and how to find a particular audience for these sorts of books via the internet, LibraryThing, etc.
Rather than recap the whole event (not that my memory of what happened last Monday is all that clear anyway), here are a few of the bigger points that came out of this:
Overall, this was one of the best London Book Fair panels I’ve ever been on. Great presentations and wonderful questions from the audience. And hopefully we came up with some interesting ideas that are of some benefit to publishers large and small.
Over at Ready Steady Book Mark Thwaite has posted the “Books of the Year 2008 symposium” featuring recommendations from a host of authors, translators, and reviewers, including Scott Esposito (who recommends Adolfo Bioy Casares and others), Charlotte Mandell (who is all about Flann O’Brien), her husband Robert Kelly (who recommends Littell’s The Kindly One, Marias’s Dark Back of Time, and Nadas’s The Book of Memories), and Tom McCarthy (whose only recommendation is Toussaint’s Camera) among others.
Definitely worth checking out, especially if you’re looking for good recommendations to kick off 2009.
Time has flown since our previous issue this February, a month once characterized by Zulfikar Ghose as “nasty, British and short”. Ghose’s trenchancy is not confined to seasonal vicissitudes, as borne out by his essay published in this forum, spelling out the pitfalls of literary provincialism. He will surely feel at home here given the diverse cultural origins and universal voices of an array of writers such as: Michael Blumenthal, Denise Duhamel, Roberta Gordenstein and Geoffrey Hartman, each proving that American literature is the equal of any being written today; C.J.K. Arkell, Jill Dawson and Anthony Rudolf, reminding us that British literati are hardly lagging behind; and Marjorie Agosín and Irina Ratushinskaya, from Chile and Russia respectively, outstanding exponents of a poetry both lyrical and defiant.
Mark does make a couple of interesting comments though:
I’d like to question why [Google Books and the Sony Reader] dominate publishers’ thoughts so much. Neither, it seems to me, need necessarily fundamentally alter the publishing business and before either does totally change the way publishers have to work there is a long road to travel.
I tend to agree with this. I don’t think the digital future of publishing is moments away, and I still believe that the book as book will survive, with a plethora of different ideas—instant pod, ebooks, things we have yet to even think of—also existing. Eventually the industry will focus on using technology to figure out the best way of distributing its product—of reaching readers in ways outside of the current distribution model. This will be especially true for books that fall outside of the mainstream, that aren’t best-sellers, that aren’t sold in Wal*Mart.
Although I’m personally resistant to eReaders, it sounds the technology is almost there . . .
I’m about as book mad as they come, and I’m interested in good technology. The Reader isn’t going to change my book reading and book buying habits yet, but it won’t have to improve that much before I start getting very interested.
The basic sentiment at Mssv is that as soon as it’s as easy to “rip” books (converting them into a digital, transferable format) as it is to rip CDs or movies, publishing will crumble as readers illegally download books, quit frequenting bookstores, etc.
This is a complicated issue with a number of subissues to explore—personally, I think commercial presses will be most screwed by technological innovations, whereas savvy indies are in a position to take advantage of this to bring more attention to their books—but generally, I agree with Mark.
The real change that’s coming is in the way that readers find out about books. The flow of information is changing from the days when publishers relied on static ads and print book reviews to get the word out. And the presses that seize on new ideas and ways of connecting with readers stand to reap the most benefits.
A lot more can be said about this—and probably will over time—but personally, I think the next 5 to 10 years for the book industry will be really interesting to watch.
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Randall Jarrell once argued a point that I will now paraphrase and, in doing so, over-simplify: As a culture, we need book criticism, not book reviews. I sort of agree, but let’s not get into all of that. Having finished. . .