In light of the recent collapse of the Borders corporation, things are looking shaky for booksellers, publishers and writers alike. Borders’ demise is the first major sign that those who predicted that Amazon and ebooks would run traditional bookstores out of business may be right.
For those of us preparing to enter the book industry, it is terrifying.
This New York Times article discusses how the issue of electronic media in publishing is dominating conversation within the industry. Students at Columbia University’s six-week Publishing Course have been inundated with the message that everything about publishing is changing — and there are no guarantees about what aspects of the industry will survive the shift.
One of the lecturers, Douglas Stewart of Sterling Lord Literistic, is quoted in the article as saying, “It is a really scary time to go into the business, and I’m sure they’re hearing that. We’re all thinking that as we look out at the sea of eager faces — I wonder if they should be doing that right now?”
As a student currently enrolled in the Denver Publishing Institute, I am really interested in the answer to that question. The Denver Publishing Institute (DPI) is an intense four-week graduate certification course that introduces students to many aspects of the publishing industry, including editing, marketing and sales. Denver differs from other publishing courses in that it focuses heavily on book publishing as opposed to magazine publishing.
This is my second week out in Denver and I have already learned a ton about the publishing industry — but most of what I have learned is that no one knows what the future holds.
People who go into publishing aren’t interested in money. We aren’t looking to get famous or go to glamorous Hollywood parties. From what I’ve seen at DPI so far, we mostly just love books — and we want to center our lives around them.
Half of the 98 students in our class journeyed out to see the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 despite the fact that we had class at 9:00 the next morning. Many people pull out novels during lunch breaks, and general book-nerdery is apparent in every class as we eagerly hang on the words of lecturers who instruct us in the fine points of line editing and book publishing contracts. It’s sad that an industry that has so much passion and genuine love behind it may be on the brink of extinction.
Although Borders is gone, the printed book should stay alive. There are too many people who love the feel of a book in their hand to let this be the end of Gutenberg’s great invention. Ebooks are great, but they shouldn’t be the only books.
My hope is that those who love printed books will continue to support local and chain bookstores. Until changes within the industry slow down, however, book publishing will have an uncertain future.