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).