Thursday, January 26, 2006

Part One of AlterNet's Roundtable Discussion on Progressive Publishing

Here's the intro...

In our world of fast-changing technologies, information overload, instant pundits and a relentless global 24/7 news cycle, books are, perhaps surprisingly, still vitally important. Yes, in the era of the Internet and media convergence on the web, Gutenberg's invention is still holding its ground, even though there is some decline in the number of books being sold, in a business sector that has its ups and downs.

There are many reasons why books remain a central part of many of our lives. One heartening reason is books represent deeper thinking than what we get in our day-to-day news scanning, and, happily, many people still want to dig and know more to make sense of our crazy and disconcerting world. And in some cases, book authors get enough respect and attention to jumpstart a national conversation.

Nevertheless, the trends in book publishing reflect media consolidation in other areas -- there are the big conglomerates and the little guys. As much as 80 percent of trade publishing is controlled by large publishing houses. Still, book sales are big business: Barnes and Noble, Borders and Amazon are all battling for market share. The Internet is helping to make many more books available than the brick and mortar stores can contain -- the so-called "long tail" that is supposed to strengthen small, independent publishers.

One might think that the smaller independent progressive book publishers would be thriving, especially in the face of the Bush administration's rampant unpopularity. But, surprisingly, political publishing is in the doldrums. The publishing boom of post-9/11 and the earlier Bush years have faded, along with the effectiveness of progressive activism. Is there a connection with books and the state of political engagement?
An interesting discussion follows (you can read the whole thing in the link above). I look forward to the second installment, when they'll discuss
--Should prominent progressive authors who sell a lot of books publish only with independents?
--Are these authors selling out when they go with corporate publishers?
--Has the New York Times Book Review section gotten much more conservative?
My own pat answers (which I should probably go into more depth with, but I'm falling asleep at my chair):

--It's a wonderful idea.
--No (speaking as an author grateful to be with a large publisher, of course), but I do think that authors should find ways to support small presses. I am in love with so many small presses and hope to do an anthology or poetry collection with one soon.

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