Tuesday, June 07, 2011

The future of the book

One of the most interesting parts to me of the Arkansas Writers' Conference was the discussion about what's going to happen to the book. I think everyone pretty much agreed on the future, but there was some large difference in the appropriate response.

Saturday morning began with a presentation by Philip McMath on the Porter prize, a prize given to Arkansas writers. These writers are not famous but are working on fiction, nonfiction, poetry, screenwriting. McMath and Jack Butler began the prize 25 years ago to recognize Arkansans and named it to honor their college English professor. This year McMath showed the documentary that the prize foundation has prepared to give out to Arkansas schools to encourage young writers. I loved it. I wished there'd been something to encourage young writers when I was actually a young writer. I thought it was inspiring. I'm like that. Click here to find out more about the prize and it looks like there's a link to the documentary. I think it was around 25 minutes long.

And then...Phillip McMath said that the book was under assault, which led to hands popping up: Fahrenheit 451 and 1984 were mentioned, which I took as an implication that the government was assaulting the book. Another person mentioned digitization as a way to discriminate against the poor because it would destroy libraries and then where would the poor go? Most hands belonged to passionate defenders of the book who were ready to point out all the weaknesses of the e-readers like Kindle and Nook. I remained silent, listening and thinking about how it sounds when people argue against something when they haven't actually tried it. I'm one of the others, a dedicated Nook lover who reads more but buys fewer actual books. I put my phone hastily away when the example came up of 4 young women from an elite college in an airport who were texting instead of reading or being interested in the world around them. I really don't consider that as much of an assault on the book because there have always been people who'd rather do something other than read. I don't understand them, but I know they exist.

And then Jane Friedman spoke about the future of the book, comparing it to an album which will always have collectors but will largely disappear. There were sighs and mutters at my table. Bookstores will go away, but she never made any mention of an assault. Instead, she showed how quickly this evolution is taking place. Her information included facts on growth of sales, who the major influencers and controllers of change will be (Amazon, Apple, and Google). And even why that doesn't mean the end of storytelling or writers or reading. In fact, it means expanded opportunities for writers and readers. It included charts like this one (where and how we share stories, get information):

It was an interesting conversation, particularly for someone like me who works on...books. We work in publishing. We see the evolution taking place. I do think Leisure Arts is headed in the right direction (because it's honestly about what's inside the book more than the format to me), so that was reassuring. If you'd like to read more about what Jane Friedman thinks about the future of the book (in her own words in case I've jumbled the message), click here. You can also find out more about her at www.janefriedman.com.


Jane Friedman said...

Wonderful summary! :) Thank you so much.

Shirley said...

Thanks for an excellent summary and the posting of the amazing graph. No wonder we all feel overwhelmed. But I trust Jane to be out there ahead of me, scouting out the wildnerness.