17 January 08 | Chad W. Post

The National Book Foundation just launched a blog—“Reading Ahead”:http://readingahead.blogspot.com/— written by Harold Augenbraum.

As can be expected, the posts are very thoughtful, literary, and well-written, and the mission is quite admirable:

The blog’s purpose is to gather information and ideas in various fields that are having, or will have, an impact on literary reading: the sociology of (literary) reading, the neuroscience of (literary) reading, the marketing of literary work, delivery systems, educational approaches, and innovative projects that cultivate a passion for literature. I hope that, in the future, guest bloggers with expertise in a variety of fields will post to the blog, by their own suggestion or my invitation. In the end, we should achieve a cross-disciplinary digest.

With Open Letter gearing up to launch its first titles, and my general interest in how readers find out about books, I was particularly drawn to the post on literary marketing:

Question: how will literary books be marketed in the future? Marketing, for most literary publishers, is conservative and traditional, with small investment based on the expected small returns (or figments of large returns). Particularly for literary works, it’s often hard to see how the investment of, say, $25,000 or $50,000 could make a long-term difference in most literary books or authors, even though the book itself may have great literary merit. And where would such capital come from? A publisher once told me that his market research is “I publish the book and I figure out the market for that book when I see how many people buy it.” Not too many industries work this way, especially in the “long tail” era.

Yeah, market research. Hm. When I talk to other students at the Simon business school (where I’ve recently been taking classes “for fun”) about independent publishing, they’re usually a bit shocked by how quaint (re: out-of-touch) the industry seems . . .

Augenbraum’s final bit scares the crap out of me though:

If, as analysts suggest, the digital age brings with it a loss of personal autonomy, replaced perhaps by small-group autonomy, perhaps open source marketing campaigns could result. Yet if the literary novel in particular is the last bastion of the individual voice, can marketing based on a multiple perspective broaden its audience? And could the unthinkable happen: the editing (or even creation) of a literary novel based on early e-list feedback, the way one develops cars and edits movies? Forget print-on-demand. How about write-on-demand?

Anyway, this promises to be another great site discussing literature and books in a serious, useful, interesting way.

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