Though you may have seen some worrisome headlines over the last few years, I want to let you know that publishing isn't dead. Or dying. The way publishing has traditionally run is, perhaps, on its way to the nursing home, but the next of kin has been notified, and things will be ok.
We're entering a new age and things may not look like they do now or once did, but change is part of life, and publishing isn't exempt from the rules of life. Instead of the "oh my god, self-publishing/ebooks/downsizing/total global financial shutdown/bookstores closing is going to kill the industry" lamentation, I prefer to ask myself the following questions--
(1) Are great authors still producing great stories?
(2) Is there a way to get the story to the reader?
(3) Are readers willing to part with some percentage of their income/inheritance to buy these stories?
Because I can answer, without any doubt, "Yes," to all of the questions, I'm not going to put my head in the sand and wait for Armageddon. There's a lot of work to be done to figure out how the internet can help nurture new readers and keep existing readers engaged by building interactive communities around the thing we all love--the written word. Because we live in a wondrous age where information can be spread to any spot on the map at lightning speed (or whatever our gracious overlords at Verizon/Google generously provide us), we can, at a moment's notice, any time of day, have conversations that transcend age, race, class, religion, and geographic boundaries. The possibilities for genuine organic buzz and viral enthusiasm have never been greater.
In the rush to help push the marriage of new technology and old publishing we have seen some beautiful examples of what can be; authors like Scott Sigler and Seth Harwood who are comfortable with the lessened barriers between artist and reader have built loyal fan bases that rival those of sports franchises. The opportunity for a mutually meaningful connection is more immediate than ever before. It probably changes some vestige of the writer as pedestal dweller that some folks wrongly or rightly hold dear, but it is evolution.
Authors of all stripes are on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, their own blogs, forums, newsgroups. So are readers. The match seems perfect. As a publisher I have tried to tastefully and strategically record situation appropriate audio and video to give readers access to the story behind the story.
In 2004 when I was still at Bleak House Books we published Nathan Singer's debut novel, A Prayer for Dawn. In addition to being a helluv an author, Nathan is a musician/actor/spoken word artist who has serious presence. At the release party for the book, held in a Covington, Kentucky dive bar, Nathan performed sections of A Prayer for Dawn. Though I had already read the book multiple times, and was a big fan, seeing it performed live added something extra. I didn't have a video camera then, but a few years later when I got one, I had Nathan reenact a bit of the book in a conference room of a Wyndham hotel (NSFW?). Scientifically, I have no proof, but I think from what I know of him, twenty first century Maxwell Perkins would dig something like that.
On the flip side, anybody who has spent any amount of time in the online publishing community knows that for the most part, it's an environment full of differing opinions, keen insights from readers and professionals alike, lively discussion, and...the tone deaf parade of folks who show up at the virtual library with a well-polished trumpet and sparklers, convinced that the key to selling books and standing out is to be the loudest second rate PT Barnum in the room.
Obviously all of this stuff is still shaking out and probably by the time you finish this article, things like Facebook will be so outdated, it will be no different than if I'd shown up in a flannel shirt telling you the next big wave in music was coming from Seattle, but that's cool, because I'll be busy evolving and adapting from the rec room of Shady Gardens Retirement Home.