Yet Another Publishing Wonk

Everybody who’s anybody, and quite a few nobodies, are pontificating on the present state of publishing.  Things are rough right now.  My agent sent me a couple of nervous emails about what type of project we should pitch next.  (Maybe evil yet awesome?  Oh, wait.  That’s in April.)

Everyone has an opinion.  You know what they say about opinions, but this is a big Internet.  I will not take it personally if you pass on this one.  Hell, enough of you read my political rants.  So why not have a go at my wholly unqualified opinion on the publishing industry.

I want to hit four points based on what I’ve seen these past five years.  But first, I want to make a very important point:

Yes, it’s bad.  It’s a dark time for publishing.  But if history teaches us anything, it’s that dark times are what come between the booms.  (Conversely, booms happen between downturns, so keep that in mind next time publishing gets all giddy again.  That goes for everything else.)

I want to address newspapers, distributors, electronic publishing, and print-on-demand.

  • Newspapers – My original post was longer and rantier and made some points about the free alternative weeklies doing better than the dailies.  And then Matt Groening had to go and invalidate everything I said with a comment about his Life in Hell strip’s future.

    But one point I do want to make.  The newspaper as we know it is disappearing.  It’s not coming back.  Nor is the broadsheet or the single-section paper of the pre-Hearst/Pulitzer era. 

    For that reason, I believe publishers should shift their focus away from newspapers until they figure out what their new role will be going forward.  There’s a role for newspapers in the future, but until they figure out what that is, publishing needs to shift it’s advertising dollars elsewhere.  Go where the eyeballs are.
  • Electronic – Recording saw electronic formats coming and panicked.  As early as 1995, major artists suggested that sending music to record stores via those newfangled broadband cable thangies might be a profitable revenue stream when coupled with another cheap, new technology:  The CD burner.  Recording’s response?

    Run screaming into the night.  So rather than embracing something that would have ushered in a new golden era for recording, labels buried their heads in the sand and let Napster do for free what they should have done a buck a download.Publishing’s response to the Internet and electronic formats?

    Um…  The PDF (fine for replacing the fax), DRM (only works for movies), and proprietary ebook formats.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love the Kindle, but if electronic books are going to become competitive with hardcover, trade, and mass market paperbacks, they’re going to need to be standardized for any device and reasonably priced.

  • Distribution:  Distribution of books is in the hands of one or two companies.  That is not competitive.  In fact, it’s the biggest obstacle to independent bookstores surviving.One or two big companies decide it’s more competitive to send big orders to a few chains or Wal-Mart, and the independents are screwed.  No, that’s not capitalism.  That’s an oligarchy bordering on monopoly.  Last I checked, those were illegal except in a few cases. 

    Since we’re talking about books instead of cars or pro sports, book distribution doesn’t pass the exception test.
  • Print-on-demand:  It has it’s place, and small press is not it.  I know this from personal experience.  I think the in-store press has a future, as does the small print run on POD.  But the model of no advances, no inventory has simply lost any credibility.  I know.  I was in the lab for the experiment, and that rabbit stunk when it died.

Obviously, I don’t have all the answers.  I do know distributors have a lopsided amount of influence on publishing.  I know New York and London have twiddled their thumbs on electronic formats, possibly handing Amazon a monopoly.  I don’t think newspapers are dead, but I do think they’re overdue for a transformation.  And I don’t see a future for POD as a major force in publishing.

A Bold Prediction

The economy will begin rebounding at by the end of the year.

True Believers and Rush Limbaugh will say that we are still in the recession, not because spending, manufacturing, and lending aren’t up but because it happened under the Obama Administration, so therefore, recovery is not possible.  Even if it’s happening.

Ironically, Stephen Colbert will be the first to deny the recovery, but his words will be parroted irony-free by wingnuts everywhere.

Moonbats, conversely, will proclaim that unicorns have appeared and Barack farts cinnamon, which will likely do more to damage his approval ratings than any missteps he might make.

I, of course, will shake my head in disbelief, merely grateful the worst is over.

Lent: ‘Cuz You Need Those 40 Days To Get Through That Hangover

Lent is a time of spiritual renewal in which many give up things to make themselves a better person through sacrifice.  So for the next 40 days, I’m giving up:

  • On Heroes.  Actually, I gave up on it a long time ago.
  • Watery beer
  • Celibacy
  • Memes
  • Tagging people for memes
  • Conservative talk radio
  • Liberal talk radio
  • My plans for world domination – That and Heroes were cutting into my time to watch Battlestar Galactica.
  • Infomercials
  • The Cincinnati Bengals – Actually, I gave up on them a long time ago

So what if these are things I don’t indulge in.  If I still don’t do them for 40 days, aren’t I a better person?

Actually, I think I became a better person the day I stopped listening to politics on talk radio.

Guitar Hero World Tour Saves Rock and Roll

AJ has become quite a convincing drummer playing both Rock Band and Guitar Hero World Tour.  The drums on those two games actually require you to simulate playing the real instrument vs. just hitting the Wii-mote and color-coded buttons on guitar and bass or merely getting the pitch right on vocals.

So what’s my stepson banging away on?  Coldplay?  TI?  Some weird-ass band I’ve never heard of and can’t understand their lyrics?*

Steely Dan’s “Bodhisattva.”

Now, if I can just get him turned onto Tom Waits and Johnny Cash…

Or even Marillion.  I think Marillion’s overdue for an American hit.  Last song of theirs I heard on American radio was “Hooks in You.”

*And get the hell off my lawn!

Forgotten Book Friday: Killer’s Wedge and ’til Death By Ed McBain

Ed McBain tries something with his wrap up to the Killer cycle.  He gives Steve Carella a locked room mystery.  Of course, we don’t know that until about a fourth of the way through the book.  Because Virginia Dodge is holding the 87th Precinct hostage.  All we know about Carella is that his wife, Teddy, is pregnant.  And Virginia Dodge wants to kill Carella.

Seems Carella sent her husband up a while back, and Mr. Dodge died in prison.  Virginia’s warped sense of justice demands she shoot Carella.  She shows up at the 87th with a gun and a bottle of what she claims is nitro.  Meanwhile, Carella’s studying what should be a slamdunk suicide only to find it not adding up.  Old Man Scott appears to have hung himself and left $750,000 to his sons, along with Scott Industries.  The setup looks legit.  Scott tied one end of the rope to a door knob and hung himself so the door remained locked.  It’s the little details, like the weight of the body keeping the door locked and three strong sons unable to open it, that bug Carella.

Back at the station, Mrs. Dodge has a gun pointed at a bottle of nitro and is effectively running the 87th Precinct, much to the chagrin of Lt. Byrnes.  Byrnes tries dropping hints to the desk sergeant, who is unaware of the situation.  Meyer Meyer, he of the practical joking father who named him, tosses a hastily typed note out the window in triplicate.  All these efforts fail, as do Cotton Hawes’ attempts to sneak up on Virginia.  His final plan involves convincing himself the bottle is water.  Is it?

It’s Carella who ultimately finds out.

How’s that for a useless spoiler.

McBain follows this up with Til Death, where Carella’s little sister gets married.  Only someone wants to kill the groom.  Carella calls in 87th regulars Bert Kling and Cotton Hawes (who surprisingly has a steady girlfriend he picked up in Lady Killer) on their day off to play bodyguard.  It becomes apparent there are two killers gunning for Tommy Giordano, Carella’s soon-to-be-brother-in-law.  One is a Korean War vet who blames Tommy for the death of his buddy.  It’s Meyer Meyer and hardluck Detective Bob O’Brien who end up chasing him down.  Carella has a near-death experience with a tampered limousine that makes him suspect the best man (who ironically tells the groom he needs to write him out of his will now that he’s a married man – Never give a cop your motive, even if you don’t have one).  Subsequent incidents, however, including a murder in the woods near the house, have Carella stalking Ben Darcy, the naive, monumentally stupid neighbor boy still carrying a torch for Carella’s sister Angela.

Both novels are products of their time.  Cell phones are glaringly absent, and typewriters are glaringly present in both books.  As with previous 87th Precinct novels, police procedure is pre-Miranda.

Still, McBain handles his ensemble cast deftly, giving virtually every 87th regular a larger role.  Cotton Hawes days as the series action hero are far from over, but his womanizing days are in decline.  And Meyer Meyer comes into his own as the 87th’s designated comic relief.