Publishing 3.0: what comes next, and is the writer in trouble?


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What comes next for publishing? That was the question that the panelists at Publishing 3.0 tried to answer, delivering a jumble of good ideas, hopeful possibilities and acknowledgment that change is coming.

That change was perhaps the most shocking when Patrick Brown of Vroman’s Bookstore said that in 10 years, most books will be electronic; hardcovers will exist as special editions geared for collectors and aficionados (much like vinyl has emerged as a preferred choice for music collectors). Coming late in the hour, in answer to an audience question, Brown’s prediction generated a murmur of discomfort from the audience. It’s not necessarily going to happen, he amended, but bookstores have to imagine that it might.


Brown had emphasized that the value of independent bookstores like Vroman’s are the special communities they nurture. ‘It’s no secret that you’d be able to find that book somewhere else, cheaper,’ he said, but that people choose to come to Vroman’s for a host of reasons other than the book itself. Would Amazon book a bus and an author and drive readers to the Festival of Books? Maybe, but it hasn’t yet.

Richard Nash, former publisher of Soft Skull, concurred: the future of publishing lies in community and matchmaking, in connecting readers to the right books.

Not, said Sara Nelson, former editor of Publishers Weekly, in publishing six James Patterson books a year (she’d be content with just three).

David L. Ulin noted that for years, there was a perception that corporate publishing was going to be bad for aesthetics -- but it turned out to be a bad business model.

And everyone in the room seemed to agree with Goodreads founder Otis Chandler that the model is broken.

One person Tweeted, ‘really not feeling the publishing 3.0 panel, it sounds like whatever happens writers are’ in trouble. This blogger grabbed the mic and posed that as a question to the panelists, who started positive. There will be more pie for the writers, Richard Nash said.


‘But if the question is, who’s going to pay me a big, fat advance --’ he continued, when Ulin interrupted, ‘Writers are [in trouble].’

Nash noted that poetry micropresses are flourishing in this new, hectic publishing environment. With what may be the quote of the festival, he added, ‘Poetry, like porn, is a harbinger of culture.’

-- Carolyn Kellogg