Not on the same page
Opinions about the future vary widely at BookExpo America, where some embrace Internet opportunities and others hold tight to the printed word.
By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published May 23, 2006
WASHINGTON - The thousands of publishers, booksellers and authors who bartered, bantered and partied at BookExpo America would surely agree their industry is in transition, confronted by the shrinkage of reading time and the expansion of technology.
But ask what should be done and the arguments begin. Attendees at the three-day gathering, which ended Sunday, could be divided into three categories: those anxious for change, those who accept it and those who resist.
"At my age, I wish it was as simple as holding on to the older way of doing things," says Daniel Menaker, 64, executive editor in chief at the Random House Publishing Group. "This is a convention that is haunted by questions about the future."
Google, the online giant, is all for change, handing out free cookies to conventiongoers willing to try its book search program. Amazon.com officially launched Amazon Upgrade, allowing customers to view content online as a bonus for buying a traditional text.
Accepting change was Henry Holt and Co., a publisher known for literary fiction and serious nonfiction. Now, resigned to a market dominated by commercial thrillers like The Da Vinci Code and The Historian, Holt is hoping for its own blockbuster novel, Jeb Rubenfeld's The Interpretation of Murder, featuring Sigmund Freud in early 20th century New York.
"You have to expand the definition of your publishing program," said Holt publisher John Sterling, who plans a $500,000 marketing campaign. "When you have a very big book, you have to take your efforts to new levels of investment and risk."
BookExpo's prime resister and audience favorite was John Updike, the white-haired man of letters who during a Saturday breakfast speech reminded booksellers that "the written word was supposed to speak for itself and sell itself," without author promotion.
Independent stores, competing with chains, price clubs and the Internet, are in a long decline, with core membership of the American Booksellers Association dropping by 43 over the past year, to 1,660, far below its peak in the early 1990s.
HarperCollins has been a leader in finding new ways to market books, especially through the Internet. Updike stands for those who worry. Responding to a recent New York Times Magazine essay, which envisioned a universal online library allowing books to be "cross-linked, clustered, cited, extracted," the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist urged booksellers to "hold the fort" against the "electronic anthill" growing by the day.
Updike may not care for the digital mountain, but he has been added to it. Starting this week, BookExpo is making his speech available for download on the Internet, bringing it to the iPod like the latest hit song.
"Well, there you are," the author said when he heard the news. "You just can't hide anymore."
[Last modified May 23, 2006, 05:48:26]
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