Arts and Entertainment

Community forum explores the future of books

Book report

Kitsap Regional Libraries presents “How Are You Reading These Days? The Future of the Book in the Digital Age,” a panel discussion and community forum about the future of books. The free event is from 7-8:30 p.m. March 27 at BPA, 200 Madison Ave.

What effect will the digital revolution have on publishers, bookstores, libraries, readers and writers? What impact will it have economically, socially, intellectually and culturally.

Panelists include: Michael Lieberman, co-owner of Wessel & Lieberman Booksellers in Seattle’s Pioneer Square;  David Glenn, Seattle-area sales representative for Random House, Inc.; Paul Hanson, manager of Eagle Harbor Book Co. on Bainbridge Island; New York Times bestselling author Susan Wiggs; Literary agent Sharlene Martin, of Martin Literary Management; and self-published travel writer Robert M. Goldstein.

The forum will be moderated by Kitsap Regional Library Collection Manager John F. Fossett, who will also discuss how KRL is integrating the new reading technology into its patron services.

For more information, visit www.krl.org.

 

By Kathleen Thorne

On the one hand, the explosion of eBook readers and other technology has enormously expanded the ways we can access, write, publish, promote and talk about books.

Sound, animation and the ability to connect to the Internet have created the notion of a living book that can establish an entirely new kind of relationship with readers.  As electronic reading devices evolve and proliferate, books are increasingly able to talk to readers, quiz them on the material, play videos to illustrate a point, or connect them with a community of fellow readers.

That same technology enables readers to reach out to authors, provide instant reaction, and even become creative collaborators, influencing plot developments and the writer’s use of dramatic devices. Digital tools are also making it easy for independent authors to publish and promote their books, causing an outpouring of written work on every topic imaginable. Today anyone with an Internet connection, or even a cellphone, effectively owns a digital printing press.

Writers no longer have to hold their breath for years as their work is written, edited, and finally published to find out if their words have an audience. They can also be more experimental and explore topics and writing styles that might have been once considered too risky.

Thanks to this new technology, the distinction between professional and amateur writer is rapidly blurring.

Consider Amanda Hocking. Unknown, living paycheck to paycheck in Austin, Minnesota, rejected by publishers all over New York, she decided to self-publish her young adult paranormal romance and urban fantasy series on eBook platforms only. She sold over 185,000 copies in ten months. She’s just 26 and is now making enough money to quit her day job and become a full time writer.

On the other hand, this explosion of written words means that a serious writer, besides struggling to be heard among several hundred thousand other print voices, must now compete with an online chorus that is a thousand times greater. And, in all likelihood, he must do his own marketing as well in the increasingly crowded social media cloud.

Meanwhile, since they are priced much lower than hardcovers, most eBooks generate less income for publishers. And because most of the big retailers are buying fewer titles, publishers who once nurtured generations of America’s top literary writers are approving fewer book deals and signing fewer new writers – and are even wary of published authors whose previous works were only moderate sellers. At the same time, most of those getting published are receiving smaller advances.

In some cases, independent publishers are picking up the slack by signing promising literary-fiction writers. But they offer, on average, $1,000 to $5,000 for advances, a fraction of the $50,000 to $100,000 advances that established publishers typically paid in the past for debut literary fiction.

Then there are those alarms about how the Internet is rewiring out brains and the impact that too much screen time in having on our ability for sustained concentration. Will today’s hyperwired young people rise to the challenge of reading books, or will future teachers replace the book assignment with the chapter?

There are more intellectual concerns as well. As the market increases its influence over what gets published and what makes in into the hands (or devices) of the public, and the traditional arbiters of literary culture – book reviewers, literary journals, humanities departments – fade into the background, will a book’s literary value be based only on how well it sells? Will books descend from what was once considered a major form of social currency to just another facet of the entertainment industry? Will a “good book” mean high gross sales and a “good writer” mean one whose next book can be guaranteed to sell better than the last one? Case in point: According to a recent article in Prospect magazine, one out of every 17 hardback novels bought in the U.S. since 2006 has been written by the crime novelist James Patterson.

Perhaps you’re one of those Luddites inclined to fling the most recent best seller (don’t try this with an e-reader) across the room in despair that there is anyone still alive who cares about proper grammar,  correct spelling or fact checking. Or maybe you live in dread of the day when you will no longer be able to wander into your local bookstore, chat with the staff about a newly discovered author, meet him or her at a book signing that evening, and then discuss the book face-to-face with your book group.

Finally, there’s the bookshelf issue. eBook fans celebrate the fact that a “stack” of digital books is lightweight, easy to tote around, and requires no storage space. But for many readers, one of the greatest pleasures of  finishing a book is placing it purposely on a bookshelf, next to other well-worn volumes, to be cherished and reread, as Anne Fadiman described in Ex Libris, her 1998 essay collection:

“What I consider the heart of reading: not whether we wish to purchase a new book but how we maintain our connection with our old books, the ones we have lived with for years, the ones whose textures and colors and smells have become as familiar to us as our children’s skin.”

And, some might add today, don’t have to be recharged!

Please join KRL for a spirited discussion on the future of the book.

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