|Image by Kevin Rushforth; Creative Commons licence CC-By-SA-3.0
Douglas & McIntyre files for bankruptcy protection.
Key Porter Books closes its doors.
Small, independent and iconic Ottawa bookstore Books on Beechwood closes for good.
These are just a few examples that trouble any writer, particularly one in Canada. I'm not the only one who sees them as symptoms of a deep malaise.
The loss of independent Canadian publishing companies is alarming. How many are left?
And with the news that Random House is merging with Penguin Publishing Group, reducing the Big Six worldwide publishers to the Big Five, the industry just becomes that much more monolithic, that much less diverse, that much less open as a means for the world to share ideas.
The real irony is that there are more books being bought, and presumably read, than ever before. Not just by a little bit, either — the e-book phenomenon has multiplied the total number of books — and incidentally, writers — by factors of magnitude.
And yet, the commercial publishing industry continues to ignore the independent authors. It’s understandable that a business will favour proven authors over risking a lot of money promoting an unknown, but today, it’s next to impossible for a new author to get a manuscript even looked at by an agent, let alone a publisher. The only new writers to get a traditional, commercial publishing contract, it seems to me, have some kind of connection to the publishing world, already.
The commercial publishing industry has not kept up with the change in the world. Publishers keep doing what they’ve always done. It’s time for some fresh ideas.
Instead, we get more work by sure-hit producers. I look forward to the next book by Cormac McCarthy or Yann Martel as much as anyone. I cannot oppose JK Rowling's move to adult-marketed fiction. But publishing a book ghost-written for Snookie or Justin Bieber is an immoral waste of resources.
The traditional publishing industry’s strategy clearly is not working. Like the mainstream political parties in the US, book publishing is disconnected from the reality most consumers live in. It sings its own praises to itself, it puts on a good show, but its members are the only ones watching.
Publishing is in a death spiral: fewer and fewer companies, fewer authors, and as publishers close down one by one, the spiral tightens. It seems the centre that it’s sinking into is denial.