The Future of Books

Over at The Brooklyn Rail, there is an interview with professor John Thompson about his book Merchants of Culture. In the interview he says,

The publishing industry is in trouble—but not just because of the digital revolution. The real trouble for the publishing industry, in my view, has more to do with the gradual unfolding of this economic transformation that led to this structure of publishing, where we now have five large corporate groups and a small number of retail chains dominating the industry. These corporations have to achieve growth year on year, and when that top line revenue begins to fall, as it did when the 2008 economic recession suddenly tipped the narrow profit margins into the red, it has devastating impact throughout and the only way that they can preserve the profit at the bottom line is to push people out, and to reduce their overheads and costs dramatically.


I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding about the cost of e–books. The question of the printing and paper is a relatively minor part of publisher’s cost, maybe 10 percent of their overall costs. Most of the costs are tied up with the overhead costs of running a publishing organization, the editorial time that goes into publishing and developing books, and all the design that goes into a book, whether it’s to be printed or not. And then, of course, there’s all your marketing and publicity expenditure. A relatively small part is tied up in the actual physicality of the printed book.


I think it’s important not to take an apocalyptic view of the future of the book and the future of publishing. You have to counter that with the fact that books really matter to people. There are many people who just love books and they love the ideas that are expressed in books; they love the stories that are told through books and all of it.

OK, just go and read the whole interview so I don’t have to keep quoting it and risk copyright infringement. 🙂 And now I have another book that I feel compelled to get and add to my TBR pile.


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