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Tuesday Tantrum: Bye, Bye Borders

Since my days as a science major, I've been fascinated by evolution. Once considered a slow, gradual process, it is now recognized that evolution occurs in big jumps called punctuated equilibrium. Things plug along with the status quo until some tipping point is reached and then -- bam! -- a new set of species takes its place as the dominant ones.

One of the benefits to studying natural systems is the insight it gives to social and economic structures. And this year, I'm observing a series of events that suggest we're at the tipping point in publishing. The latest: the liquidation of book giant Borders. Lots have blogged and analyzed what this portends. One of the best posts can be found at the Gathered Stories blog.

While defenders of the old order will come out in droves to justify Borders' demise as a sign of anything but the overall decline of traditional print publishing, the writing's on the wall. Actually, the writing's on the tablet, Nook, Kindle, and whatever other electronic device that will support e-readers. Want proof? I'll spare you stats, and give you my satori last week instead:

I'm listening to a book on my commute, half way through, and it's overdue at the library. But I'm into the story now, so I weigh the cost of the overdue fines over the cost of buying the bestseller new at Barnes & Noble. In my hand I hold the beautiful volume. I check out its price. I put it back and leave with a  mag instead. Mind you, I make good money in my day job, enough to bitch about taxes even though I'm a tax-loving liberal. And I read dozens of books, fiction and non, each year. I write books. But my biggest book expense is overdue book fines. Why? My shelves are crowded with books I read once and won't again. See, the value of the book is in the story it contains. So guess what's on my birthday wish list?

Kindle or Nook.

Any recommendations?

Mandel Ngan  /  AFP - Getty Images

Tuesday Tantrum: Will We Really Miss the Book Publishers?

I'm thinking quite a bit about this precipice upon which mainstream publishing is now perched, and wondering if it might not be yet another instance of democracy in action. A decentralization of publishing, after all, will ensure that divergent material is offered. Not deviant. Just different. And I'm not the only one thinking this. Anne R. Allen posted a brilliant essay on her blog about this very topic.

She was responding to the ever-insightful Wall Street Journal's recent article about the woes we readers will face if the big pubs disappear (which they probably won't) or diminish in influence (which they definitely will). The article waxed prosaic about how dire things will be if we are forced to wade through the muck offered by the Kindle authors to find one good novel worth reading.

How considerate of WSJ to have our best interests at heart.

Right. Sell me a bridge while you're at it. Allen responded (as did a slew of folks seeking to set WSJ straight) with the simple observation that the shift to self-publishing has already led to more variety in the market. Rather than having one dystopian yarn after another catapulted to market before the ink is dry on the last one, or whatever the publishers have deemed to be what's hot today -- translation: whatever sold millions yesterday -- readers can access genres, themes, and stories that can't get to market via traditional means. This is a good thing. In fact, it looks a lot like freedom of choice.

Tuesday Tantrum: Is Traditional Publishing Nearing Extinction?

The publishing world is reeling from the advent of Pottermore and the news J.K. Rowling has ditched her long-time agent. Apparently, the stratospherically successful author of the Harry Potter series (the first volume of which was rejected by twelve publishers, according to lore) retained the digital rights to her work and is now cashing in, sans publishers.

What does all this portend? Besides the gnashing of teeth heard round the world at the loss of such a fortune by her former agent and publishers, that is.

Time to speculate. Interestingly, the Guardian recently published a piece about self-publishing and its rapid ascendency as a preferred path for authors. Compelling arguments were made for the self e-pub route. And from a financial standpoint, it certainly seems to make sense for a new author facing the enormous barriers to publication via the traditional route and the likelihood that if successful will languish among the midlist, to consider self publication.

But there's still the problem of access. It's all fine and well if the goal is to sell books (of course that's the goal). Many people still get books from their school or public library, however, or from a bookstore. Until those gated communities welcome the self-published, there is still a huge benefit to the traditional route -- if the goal is to be available to the full audience.

Chime in.