But now the revolution is upon us, commentators are starting to realise the scale of the change it will unleash. In today’s Crikey, for instance, Jeff Sparrow examines the state of the local industry and thinks it will be in for a bumpy ride:
Times are not great for literary publishing. The GFC arrived as the industry already struggled with the collapse of a reviewing culture, declining print runs. and a general crisis about literature’s role in contemporary society. Hence the hope, in some quarters at least, that the Kindle – or something like it – will bring sexy back to reading, that, fortified by e-books, literature will let its hair down and take off its glasses, and the reading public will say, ‘My God, literary novel – you are beautiful!’
Now that’s probably not going to happen. But e-books are not going away, and the industry’s going to have to adapt. It may be a bumpy ride.
Sparrow is right. The publishing industry is way behind where it needs to be in terms of porting its business model from the boutique manufacture of literary artefacts to pure content businesses whose survival will depend on the brand power and audience reach of their authors’ lists – and nothing else.
Perhaps this is why, as Sparrow notes, “at most writers’ festivals, the whole digital thing often sparks far more revulsion than enthusiasm.”
For every Wired fan gushing over a new Gutenberg revolution, there’s a dozen pundits explaining — either mournfully or combatively, depending on temperament — how they take tactile pleasure in turning printed pages, that ink and paper smell nice, and that the transformation of the bound volumes on their study shelves into ones and zeroes existing only in cyberspace fills them with equal parts horror and disgust.
It is this book-loving culture that is ironically going to be the biggest challenge for publishing houses. The beauty of the printed and bound codex will endure. Many publishers will not.