I do worry about the industry. I’ve already seen how publishers have pretty much done away with their internal editorial and marketing departments. Only a select few books ever receive the “big push” these days (and they run the gamut in quality from Twilight to The Help). It used to be authors could anticipate an advance; nowadays you’re lucky just to have the printing costs picked up. You’ll have to market your book yourself (some, such as Talia Carter, are doing a great job navigating the stormy publicity waters) and balance the print copies with electronic sales.
I used to bemoan the big box stores taking over the industry and forcing the independent bookstore owners out of business. Now, with Borders shuttering its storefronts, I bemoan Wal-Mart for offering cheap stacks of books that have cut the margins even for those companies that should be able to withstand them. I worry about e-books and self-publishing; it used to be that no one of quality was self-publishing. Now a great number of authors are forced to go this route (if you aren’t Suzanne Collins, you’ll be lucky to get any print deal in this economy). As a former newspaper journalist, I recognize an industry in decline and worry that one day no print literature will even exist, and my home will be one of the many that is viewed as a quaint museum (a la those folks who still have their vinyl records and 8-track tapes).
However, all this finger pointing at the supply side is missing the big picture. Book publishing is unlike print journalism, which was consolidated into a very small number of hands that speak for a very vocal minority across the globe. In fact, the Internet has been a solution to alternative voices being heard. Whether those voices are samisdat/dissident or simply small press that couldn’t before compete with the likes of The Chicago Tribune, for example, the Internet has democratized information.
What new media does not do is encourage engaged and prolonged reading. Reading for pleasure hasn’t been in vogue for decades, which is why despite my opinion as to Stephanie Meyer’s technical skills, I’m happy that legions of girls (mostly) have read thousands of pages of printed books. I felt the same way with the Harry Potter series (although JK Rowling went from compelling story-teller to solid writer along her seven-book journey). Without a steady supply of readers, books will become as anachronistic as telegrams.
I believe that if you raise young people to be avid readers, then there will always be a demand for tangible books. My daughter this summer has been compelled (by her AP English class this fall) to read The Odyssey, Camus’ The Plague, and—eek, gads!—the King James’ version of The Bible. My young son has been compelled (by a mom who made him sign the NYC-school’s contract for elementary school age children to read 45 minutes/day over the summer) to launch his day with 45 minutes of reading (I tried the bedtime ritual, but that wasn’t working; now he has to read prior to television or video games each day). My daughter would rather read for pleasure, which she has done as well this summer, but even Cain & Abel rank higher than the Common Ap. She’s also writing a substantial piece of fan-fic based on the Marauders’ time at Hogwarts.
I hope that anyone interested in preserving literature, will seek out his or her long-lost library card (or hit up the local bookstore while it’s still in business) and read something of heft this summer. It doesn’t matter if its fiction or not, a “quality” read or just good pulpy fun. Open a book and save an industry.