If you’ve been following the fuss over the Midlist Author’s Lament on Salon, check out “Crises of the Midlist Author in American Book Publishing,” an article written in 1998 by then vice president of the National Writer’s Union, Phil Mattera. It’s an overview of “some of the fundamental problems facing book publishing in America… These problems… range from the bizarre economics of the industry to the imbalance of power between authors and publishers.”
This bit caught my attention:
In the past couple of years it has become apparent that the many of the most dramatic predictions about electronic publishing are not coming to pass–at least not for the foreseeable future. Traditional printed books are not being replaced by electronic books. The World Wide Web continues to grow, but most people are not interested in reading book-length works on a computer screen.
That’s true right now, sure, but what about ten or twenty years from now? I suspect it might not be true for people who’ve grown up reading text on a computer screen. And what about print on demand? If you google the phrase, the first result is a page of warnings and cautions (last updated in 1993!). How come print on demand is not becoming a viable alternative? Surely there’s a way all this new technology — the internet, electronic publishing, print on demand — can be used to save the book publishing industry or, better yet, to save writers. I suspect the problem is that publishers and booksellers insist on working on an outmoded model (much like the music industry) instead of getting with the program. And unfortunately so do writers. I guess we’d rather be considered respectable than revolutionary.