Monday, July 2, 2012

An argument for traditional publishers

This is a very interesting book cover that I happened upon when idly looking through my "recommended for you" section on Amazon (something I rarely do). It definitely caught my eye—no title! Jumping man! Penguin Publishing colors! Cute logo on the lower right! So I decided to look into it.

And here's what I found—"Poke The Box" is a little business advice book by Seth Godin, an entrepreneur who started CD Baby and sold it for millions. The concept behind it is that you should jump into whatever you are passionate about, and see where it takes you. All well and good, even intriguing to an entrepreneur like myself.

I scrolled down to the reviews, which are split between glowing and miserable, and the primary "review" at the top is self-admittedly by a business friend of Godin's. Other more negative ones started giving me a little window in to  this book, which is published by Amazon, through a company of Godin's called "The Domino Project". This company is a self-publishing company (and I think it will be publishing non-self-written books) backed by Amazon. Its intention is clear—it wants to cut out publishing companies, like Penguin, Random House, Knopf etc. and make books shorter. Because:

"The Domino Project is trying to make ideas easier to spread. I think books are important and book publishers are basically trying to kill books. They’re making them too expensive, too long, too slow, too hard to spread and too hard to find. So the public is just ignoring them and moving on to the next thing.

"I wanted to make it easy for someone, if they’re moved by the idea in a book, to hand it to someone else or to hand it to five other people or 50 other people, and say, “This is the way we’re going to do things around here from now on.” That’s what books are great at, and I want to optimize for that kind of conversation."
—from an interview on Social Media Examiner

I want to say one thing. The death of the publishing industry means the death of fine literature. Because it means the death of fine editing. Not all director's cuts of movies are good. And VERY VERY FEW books that have not gone through a professional editor's hands are good. Even fewer are brilliant.

There is a reason that printed books cost what they do. Because there are many people behind it. The editor-in-chief, who decides if a manuscript has that spark. The editor who carefully and lovingly helps shape the book with the author into a gem. The designer who takes that gem and through meticulous typography and inventive jacket design helps bring that gem into easy legibility and visual beauty. The copyeditor who checks for typos and grammatical errors. The production team who get it printed at the lowest cost they can. The marketing team who tries to bring it to the attention of bookstores (WHICH SHOULD NEVER BE ELIMINATED, how in the world would you happen across a truly random find that is not supposedly tailored to your tastes by something like Amazon?). And then the bookstores who have retail space, employees, chairs in which to browse.

I am fine with e-books, though I think they have a long way to go in terms of beauty. And I believe in beauty. I am fine with them costing less than printed books, though I hope printed books are always around because I can't find an easy way to make notes in an e-book or flip through to find that one sentence I found so alluring, or that character's name I just can't recall. Especially in Russian books because to me so many names sound alike.

But please, world, do not murder publishers. Do not let literature fall into an unedited state. Only a few authors are so brilliant that their untouched manuscripts shine with no outside help. Sure, embolden self-publishing companies to bring things like "Go the F*ck to Sleep" out from the midden heap. Let there be a place for every single person to create their own stories and publish them. But please, world, appreciate a fine tome and why it costs what it does. I myself use the library constantly, out of both frugality and a desire to limit waste of resources—but when I find an extraordinary book I buy it. In hardcover if possible.

Self-publishing companies help gems lost in the shuffle become accessible to all. Traditional publishers help diamonds-in-the-rough become something even more amazing than gems. They become lasting, beautiful additions to our lives, our culture, our future generations. Please, world.

Image courtesy of Seth Godin, found on Social Media Examiner. And as proof of my argument, I can't even find the designer's name who did the cover. Because it sure as hell wasn't Seth Godin.

p.s. Dear world, maybe help recycled paper become more easy to produce so it becomes cheaper and then printed books can come down in price.


  1. Amen to that. I don't even write Serious Books. But books are serious work, and as far as I'm concerned I'll publish quick bits online here and there (and god bless that kind of self publishing). But if I'm going to sit down and do the hard work write a book, it's a publishing house or nothing. Without that kind of support, there is no point, if if you ask me. Also (doing myself in here ;) since I am possibly part of the problem) but I'm tired of poorly written books, often self published by bloggers. I'm just tired.

    What I do wish is that publishing houses had bigger budgets these days. I got less hands on editing than I would have loved in a dream world (they said I did a good job, but I know I can always do a better one). That's pretty typical at this point, since there are not budgets for more expansive editing at this point.

    Go buy a book, people. IN HARDCOVER. From a bookstore.

  2. Oh I could even go MORE crazy on the subject, while simultaneously realizing it's semi-crazy. Physical books might eventually get relegated to a high-end item, like good furniture or well-made watches. But I will save my pennies and buy them come hell or high water.