It’s what all the cool kids are doing.
They are. I see it all over. End-of-the-year blogs that dare not look back over the great work they’ve read over the course of 2010 but rather gaze forward into the fiery publishing sphincter that is Sauron’s Eye. They gaze ahead and see revolution and revelation — acrimony, anarchy, and apocalypse! Hell, it’s the Bookpocalypse! It’s Wordmageddon! We shall be crushed, our books shall be driven from the land, and you shall hear the lamentations of our women.
Or something like that. You’ll have to forgive me — I have been without my morning coffee for a trio of mornings now, due to a fast-but-nasty stomach bug that has left my guts feeling like a hollowed out pumpkin filled with ants. No coffee makes for an irascible Wendig.
What I’m saying is, since I’m in such a jolly mood, why not join the fracas? Why not leap forth, kick my heels, and splashdown into the Prognostication Party, the Doomsayer’s Delight, the Soothsayer’s Soiree?
Here goes: my predictions for the Future of Publishing as of the Year 2010.
The Future Of Publishing Is (Drum Roll Please) The Book!
You know what the future of publishing is? The book. The motherfucking book. With pages and words and shit. And no, I don’t mean the e-book. I mean the kind of book that you can use to pound a nail, hit a bear, break a window. The physical object.
The book is never going away.
The book is an icon. The book is a treasured object. It is equal parts totem, fetish, decoration, and hand-me-down. It is a container of permanent wisdom and knowledge (or, in the case of some books, a container of permanent bullshit, but hey, that can be just as awesome).
I said it before and I’ll say it again: the fact that anybody still wants to burn a book shows you how powerful the physical object is, both as itself and as a symbol.
Books are magic. Books are love. Books are infinity times two.
I’m not saying the audiences won’t shrink. I’m not suggesting that publishing won’t be changing its models. I’m not saying that publishing books will remain the most stable industry.
But the book, she ain’t going nowhere. Because the book is a thing. I don’t mean “thing as physical object,” I mean, “thing as thing, as cultural bulwark, as obelisk and idol.”
You know what I can do? I can download a movie lickity-fucking-split to my computer. I can do this naked. Covered in jam if I so choose. I can watch that film I just downloaded on my computer, on my iPad, on my television screen. And you know what I still do from time to time?
I leave my home — wearing clothes, not ladled with sticky jam — and I go to the goddamn movie theater to watch a movie. Because the movie theater, for all its awfulness, for all its screaming children and sticky floors, remains a temple. The movie theater is a thing. It’s a thing we don’t ever want to go away. Sure, I don’t go there as often. But films can still do really well in theatrical release.
The book is like that. Maybe people will buy fewer books. Maybe the bookstore will end up having to be more like the movie theater — fewer releases week-to-week. But the book? The book is resident. The book is entrenched. Don’t agree with me? Wait till the day comes that you — or others you know — can no longer access your e-books due to, well, who knows why? Kindle glitch? Internet’s down? Amazon is taken over by hackers? Your iPad’s all gooed-up with strawberry jam and pubic hairs?
You know what remains? The books on your shelves.
I mean, unless you’d had a house fire.
But books survive. Old books are still around. Will that e-book you downloaded still linger in the digital ether in 50 years? We still live in a physical world. Things we can touch and hold matter. Yes, stories are unconstrained like songs — they merely need a container. But the book-as-container is significantly more compelling than, say, CD-as-container. Nobody gives a shit about a Blu-Ray disc.
A book, though… a book feels like fucking gold.
(And I mean “fucking” like, y’know, a verb. Like I have my pants off and I am fornicating with a giant rattling pile of gold doubloons and earrings and belt buckles and stuff. Nggh! Gold! Books! YES.)
Okay, Yes, E-Books Are Really Cool Too, Shut Up
Do we really need to predict that e-books are going to take a larger market share in the coming year? Duh. Of course they are. Because e-books are awesome, too. I don’t give a rat’s ass if I have a hard copy of every book — I just want to read the story. The story matters than the container that it’s in no matter how much I just jizz-wanked over the container itself. (Actually, can I tell you how much I hate the term “e-book?” Book is a physical thing. What we’re downloading are stories, and that cuts to the truth far more quickly.)
Yes, e-books are going to continue to be huge.
Also: water will continue to be wet.
Fire will continue to be hot.
And dolphins will continue to be our intellectual and moral superiors.
From The Shadows, The Small Publisher Strikes Like Ninja
The big publishers are giant cruise ships.
The smaller publishers are little boats with fast engines.
Big publisher sees an iceberg, it takes All Hands On Motherfucking Deck to steer that cruise ship out of the way. It’d be almost as easy to move the damn iceberg.
Smaller publishers — they see a problem or an opportunity, they can take command of the boat quickly, resolutely, and respond just like that — *snaps fingers.*
No, the large publishers aren’t going away. We will not witness some kind of grand extinction event. But smaller publishers will rise up — a publisher like Tyrus Books can drop in out of nowhere and surprise you with a hot, fresh and fast dose of killer content.
Novel As R&D
This is already true, but I predict it shall gain in prominence: Hollywood is mysteriously averse to creating its own original content, and so it turns to content that is considered safe, or somehow tested.
Novels can be considered safe, and somehow tested. They’re out there. They have sales. They exist as some kind of proof-of-concept. Hollywood will farm more films from novels.
You heard it here first.
In The Land Of The Overly Long Novel, The Short Story Is King
I think when people think of “e-book,” they think of a 1:1 ratio — here is a physical Stephen King book, and now it is digitized by Kindle elves and magically sprinkled onto my Kindle like rainbow jimmies.
But that thinking misses the fact that an e-book is not constrained by the proportions of a novel. Further, e-books are more easily consumed in bite-sized nuggets — you might not want to bring a heavy-ass hardback to the OBI-GYN KENOBI’s office, but you might bring your cutesy-poopsy Kindle.
And so it is that I predict that the short story will once more gain prominence.
I think you can see this on the web right now, but it’s only in content. The money hasn’t yet followed. Once upon a time, a writer could make a living with short fiction. That is no longer a possibility. But I think we’re moving back toward that, back toward a time when people are willing to shell out fifty cents or a buck for a piece of sexy-ass short fiction that hops like a fiery ember onto their e-reader of choice.
I’m actually waiting for a small publisher to emerge who will shepherd this more directly. No, e-publishing doesn’t require gatekeepers like that, but I don’t automatically accept that a world without gatekeepers means a world with better storytelling — I think publishers, agents and editors have value. That value will remain, but the ecosystem (which may surround authors more directly) will change.
When Is A Book Not A Book?
We will see a greater rise in book-as-app.
Open the app and yes, you can read the story, but the app will also contain a host of other accoutrements: author bio and dictionary definitions and in-character artifacts and sound effects and art work and blah blah blah. It’ll represent a kind of simulated transmedia (I say “simulated” because the container is one type of thing, but it contains multitudes for the app is legion).
Eventually, though, it’ll get to the point where somebody will ask, “This is so unlike a book that it really isn’t a book anymore.” It’ll be more like a movie or a video game. Because when is a horse not a horse? When you’ve spliced its genetics with that of a housefly, a rhododendron, and a monkey named “Carl.” Because then you get CARL, the RHODO-MORSEFLY. And he hungers for your spinal fluid.
No, I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about.
The Book, Like Cancer And Octopuses, Grows Insidious Tentacles
(Which, you must admit, sounds better than “insidious testicles.”)
The book will also get a boost beyond the simulated transmedia and will gain some traction as the hub of certain transmedia experiences — the book branches out to live events and flash-mobs and mini-apps and short stories and comics and branded food products and what-not. We’ve seen some of this already, but it’s not true transmedia in the philosophical sense — Harry Potter and Twilight were never conceived as the hub of a larger initiatives. They only became that once they gained prominence. But still, YA is where this will happen because YA is where all the risk-taking will happen.
By the way, publishers? If you like this idea?
No, really. Contact my ass right now. Seriously. Ringy-dingy.
The Self-Published Author Must Only Drink Half This Draught Of Shame Juice
Self-publishing is on the rise.
But this year still won’t be the year that it overtakes all the Shame Hurdles. The money will be a lot better. And the dose of dismissal and disdain will be lessened — but, like a sauce reducing down, the shame will be saltier, more piquant.
Writers who self-publish successfully will do two things right: first, they will create their own ecosystems of pseudo-gatekeepers. They’ll have editors and agents and cover designers, but these people won’t represent publishers in any way — they’ll bridge the author and the audience, and that’s it. Second, successful self-publishers will have learned too to become their own gatekeepers in certain matters.
Go on. Play a round of HOT PROPHECY BINGO with me. Whatchoo got?
What’s going to happen in the —
*crash of thunder, dramatic musical chord, a woman screaming*
— future of publishing?