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Ed Driscoll

Publishers Without Borders

March 22nd, 2014 - 1:06 pm


BuzzFeed’s McKay Coppins attacks the conservative book publishing industry, part of the usual ongoing BuzzFeed hits against the right in general (and the left are eating it up, not surprisingly), but downplays how dramatically in flux the entire publishing industry is. Borders is no more, and Barnes & Noble has essentially become, like Best Buy, a chain of walk-in Amazon showrooms, with its Nook eReader — and possibly the brand itself — in danger of being overrun by Amazon and Apple’s eBook format. The hard copy printed book increasingly seems likely within a few years to be relegated to being reserved for Christmas gifts and coffee table books.

The possible demise of the physical bookstore is a mixed blessing. I used to love browsing multiple times a week in my local Borders before it vanished — and brought back a large quantity of books, CDs, DVDs, and magazines — along with the memories, as everyone on the right probably has had, of the clerk with multiple piercings and limbs full of green ink rolling his or her bloodshot eyes at my purchases. And as Jonah Goldberg noted in 2008, even as Liberal Fascism was zooming up to number one on the New York Times bestseller charts, multiple readers reported the book being hidden in their local Borders because of the cover.

On the other hand, between my Kindle and tablet, I have access to hundreds of books, movies, and my entire music library anywhere there’s a Wi-Fi or 4G connection. While the cartoon atop this post humorously, if cynically, boils the information revolution down to a single isolating experience, in reality, the headlong transformation of music, movies, and books into portable digital formats is one of the great stories of this age, and its ramifications, both pro and con, will take years to ascertain. The state of the book publishing industry — on the left and right — needs to be seen in that context to be understood, something sorely missing from BuzzFeed’s attack article.

But hey, as I wrote back in 2010, if you surf around the Internet long enough, you’ll find plenty of writers concluding that “Whatever Your Ideology, Your Opponents’ Worldview Is Officially Dead.” As BuzzFeed’s hit piece illustrates, why not his books, as well?

Related: “Adam Bellow Unveils New Media Publishing Platform Liberty Island,” in an interview with Sarah Hoyt at the PJ Lifestyle blog.

Update: On the flipside, that above cartoon can also be summarized thusly: “Everything from 1991 Radio Shack ad I now do with my phone” — “13 electronic products for $5k (and 290 hrs. work) can now be replaced with a $200 iPhone (10 hrs.),” as Mark J. Perry writes at the American Enteprise Institute:

Instead of spending so much time obsessing about income inequality, the “top 1%,” the “decline of the middle class,” and generally criticizing and blaming the free market for every woe, maybe we should devote more time to celebrating how the “miracle of the marketplace” has brought about rising living standards for all income groups in America, especially low-income households. Falling prices of manufactured goods like food, cars, clothing, household appliances, computers and electronics have probably given low-income households in the US greater access to the “good life” than all of the government programs and safety nets that are part of the trillion dollars of spending on America’s “War on Poverty.”

Which isn’t a message that BuzzFeed will be publishing anytime soon, alas.

Update (3/23/14): Welcome readers of Kathy Shaidle’s Five Feet of Fury blog. Kathy returns from a visit with that rare and ever-vanishing species — the physical bookstore — with a reminder, at least to me, of yet another virtue of the Kindle, particularly in its PC version: “it felt kind of cool to be skimming the paper indices of dusty old-ish books again. But that ‘cool’ feeling doesn’t get columns written.”

Unlike physical books which need to be scanned and OCRed, the Kindle, particularly in its PC app, does make it much easier to inject a passage from a book into a column or blog post, as seen in my recent posts spotlighting Fred Siegel’s The Revolt Against the Masses, Douglas Brinkley’s Cronkite biography, and James Delingpole’s Little Green Book of Eco-Fascism. Which further promotes those books quoted and hopefully gets them read by others (and ideally, writing their own blog posts about them).

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All Comments   (8)
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I thought Star Trek and Porn built the internet?
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
There are always trade-offs. We gain a lot from computers and phones and ereaders and tablets etc. I love being able to carry 200 books and 800 songs and 25 movies around in my iPhone, and 1,500 books more on my Nook. I also love physical books, but I don't buy them as often anymore, because they are very inconvenient. Every time I move, I have 1,300 books to box up and carry. It's a pain. But I suffer it because I love them.

Even so, it's a luxury. The truly important thing is the information in the books. The aesthetic is a luxury, and as such is unnecessary. Even fictional books, while not strictly speaking necessary, teach us many things and have real utility. In David Weber's "Heirs of the Empire" he talks about how because books became so completely available in electronic format, publishing returned to its roots as an art form, as illustrated by an illuminated Bible. I think we're headed that direction eventually, and the only thing preventing it now are the artificially inflated prices of ebooks. They are kept high for no reason other than to maintain physical publishing, but that business is dying, not least from their ridiculous advances to famous people for writing books that nobody reads.

At some point everybody who wants it will have a library of thousands of volumes at their fingertips, and that may be of great benefit to the human race in general. Always assuming they're not all romance or Mack Bolan novels. Not that there's anything particularly terrible about either, if they're not the totality. Read Mack Bolan, but try a little Locke or Adam Smith or even Charles Dickens too.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
To be fair and honest, ever since the two books stores nearby closed, I have not bought a book except while waiting at an airport or a last minute grab at Sams.

Once a month, we would make the browsing adventure to one of the stores, the very same pierced clerk who scoffed at choices as if knowledge about something outside her little world was a bad thing.

Now we don't buy at all. We wait for the next redbox rental.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
The polarization of politics is a piece with the fragmentation of the publishing markets, in both the center could not hold. There is no commons anymore, no more broadcasting, just narrowcasting.

The fragments are individually more valuable, more focused, but once you fragment everything the pieces no longer assemble to a whole. Even if you try to buy all the fragments to target a message to the whole, well, the fragments overlap so you pay for some twice, and nobody has bothered to gather various odds and ends into any fragment, no profit in it, so you miss some. And buying fragments to get the whole is typically very inefficient, try to build a new Chevy by buying all the parts individually at the dealer, that Malibu will cost six figures easy.

Well, that's our world and welcome to it, things go in cycles and maybe there will somehow be a return to a commons - maybe compulsatory bulletins from Big Brother on loudspeakers everyday at exactly noon.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
The stultifying conformity of liberalism that one can satirize by saying safety pins may one day be deemed unsafe and we will wear government mandated helmets to leave the house in combination with the successful technological consolidation of navel gazing that will give us little reason to leave the house is a combination of With Folded Hands, The Marching Morons and The Machine Stops.

The technological democratization of music, photography and writing is great if you lack the talent to pass muster and hell on those who do. Hollywood is probably about to have its union monopoly on film and its distribution broken with the same result. Get ready for more crowd-sourced projects like the inadvisable sleeping pill called Veronica Mars.

Great! No one's at the gates. Probably a good time to escape the other way and explore the multifaceted uses of that thing called a doorknob.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Get ready for more crowd-sourced projects like the inadvisable sleeping pill called Veronica Mars.

Reasonable people can agree to disagree on the merit of the Veronica Mars movie; that's simply a case of beauty being in the eye of the beholder. But even if I thought the movie was awful - and I don't - I would still be excited about the way the movie got made. The idea of fans getting together and helping a beloved TV series like Veronica Mars continue in the form of this movie is a wonderful thing, in my humble opinion.

Just imagine one of your favorite, long-cancelled shows, coming back with the vital assistance of its fans when all the old models of financing would veto the idea.

There was virtually no chance whatever of Veronica Mars coming back as a TV series, movie or anything else if it had had to rely on the old models. Rob Thomas took advantage of a newly-emerging model to finance the movie and it worked really well. It beat all previous Kickstarter records for money raised and number of backers.

This opens the door for lots of OTHER favorites to be made. And that will enrich the lives of all of us who mourn those shows and just want to see more of those beloved characters and stories.

As far as I can see, no one loses from this approach either. We've simply gained another way to make a movie that couldn't get funding through conventional methods.

I'm sorry you were disappointed with the Veronica Mars movie but I sincerely hope you like the next crowd-sourced reincarnation of something YOU like.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'm not sure financing is the problem, but crowd-sourcing exacerbates what I see is a crisis of writing talent in America. People are going to tend to confuse the best of what's out there with "the best." Ratings and box office are a type of democracy but for decades there was an embarrassment of riches to choose from so that wasn't really a problem.

I've noticed that Asian films, which use our own staging techniques, are fundamentally more sound in the way they tell film stories. I don't know what the problem is in America, where especially TV production for decades was consistently head and shoulders above everyone when it came to writing. One need only watch a Turkish soap opera to see the difference.

I finally read me some Lois McMasters Bujold science fiction because she won 4 Hugo awards and is always compared to Heinlein and I was surprised how awful and boring the writing was. Shards of Honor, Curse of Chalion, Diplomatic Immunity and Mirror Dance were dithering nonsense. But many people don't see the difference between her and Heinlein. To me the difference is stark. It's a matter of what you become accustomed to as "good" and the ability to discriminate goes out the door. Palace, written in the same time-frame as those Bujold novels, is a marvel of craftsmanship and disappeared without a trace. The internet, where everyone is a reviewer, has only made that worse.

Modern stock photography houses are plucking photos off of Flickr. What does that tell you about expertise and craftsmanship?

No, I am not excited by crowd-sourcing, because I don't like to watch actresses who are stiffs with zero charisma like Veronica Mars or musicians like Palmer who survive only on charisma.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
I went to an eReader for economy of space and cost of books. I have hundreds of books in my house and can't afford the space of getting more so eReaders are great that way. Also, because of the number of books my family reads I couldn't afford the cost of books at today's prices. (Why an eBook is as expensive as it is is a question for another day.)

I went with the Nook because I enjoy going to the brick-and-mortar store and reading and browsing. Plus, I can read any book for free while there (for an hour at a time, each visit). And, if I have problems or questions about my Nook, I get to talk, face-to-face, with a real person.

Some people buy Fords, others buy Chevys or Toyotas, so I understand why others prefer the Kindle or the Apple over a Nook. However, my concern about eBooks isn't really the price of the books or the type of eReader you use, but how easy it is to modify the content of the books we buy and the fact that I may not be able to will my eBooks to my children.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
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