Academic journal article The Review of Contemporary Fiction

31 Questions and Statements about the Future of Literary Publishing, Bookstores, Writers, Readers and Other Matters

Academic journal article The Review of Contemporary Fiction

31 Questions and Statements about the Future of Literary Publishing, Bookstores, Writers, Readers and Other Matters

Article excerpt

1. This is now almost old hat, at least in some circles. The future bookstore will consist of as many as 200,000 sample books (all strategically chained to a rack so that no one walks off with them), not representing every book ever published (maybe not even representing every book currently "in print") but still a very healthy sampling of almost anything you might want to browse through. At the center of this store will be something resembling a Kinko's. If you want a hard copy of the book you browsed through, an hour later you will pick it up; at the very worst, it will look like what bound book galleys currently look like (paperbound on plain white paper, with little more than the title of the book and author on the cover). Or you may still yearn for the nineteenth century and want your book bound in leather (well, imitation leather) because your library at home is all in burgundy leather (imitation, that is), and you want your personal library to color-coordinate with your couch (books have many uses). The book you have just purchased would have been unavailable to you ten years before; it was out of print, and even your public library did not have a copy. Now you find it under "French Fiction" in your convenient Blockbuster-like bookstore. As you walk out of this store, you wonder why it is not possible for you to download at home, print on your high-speed, 600 dpi printer, and bind the book with your personalized covers that you keep in a box next to your computer. Well, wait another few years, and you will be able to do this. The Library of Congress will be in your living room.

2. Or you want to read on-screen. Welcome to it. What is the screen? A small, book-shaped screen (double-sided), with contrast and definition that, well, resembles a book (I have Evelin Sullivan to thank for this). Or maybe you want to read from a big screen. Your choice. The consumer is in control at last. Or say you got the disk from the store in #1. As the middlemen drop by the wayside, the cost of all of this also drops. Why must we now pay $25 for a book? Not because of the cost of producing the book; we pay $25 so that everyone along the way can get his cut, as inadequate as that cut may be. No one wants to consider what the actual costs are; no one, especially the publisher, wants to consider this because it raises the question of what need there is, or isn't, for all the middlemen, including - as presently constituted - the publisher.

3. What will cause #1 & 2 to happen? As always in America, especially in America, they will be caused by money. The $25 book will no longer cost the consumer $25, and yet someone will still find a way of becoming a billionaire by reducing the cost to the consumer (e.g., the guy who makes those imitation-leather covers). What else creates this change? The other half of saving money: the technology is there, though the book industry is the slowest "business" in America to respond to new technology. (After all these years, why are books still not sold or widely promoted on television? We now have specialty cable stations for almost everything, except . . . let's not get into it.)

4. Cultural effects? Enormous. All books, all information, all whatever will be available to everyone at all times. You live in some awful town in Arkansas? Well, you still have all books available in your living room, bookstore, or library (imagine a library very much like the bookstore I described). Even in Arkansas. Suffer from isolation? Not if you are hooked up to reading groups on the Internet, one of which may even exist for Gilbert Sorrentino. Gilbert Sorrentino himself might be part of the group. Or maybe not. In any event, you are now hooked up to everything and everyone. Even in Arkansas.

5. Most people will say that this can't happen. Why? Because they want to read books only in the form that they've always enjoyed. But won't having the books bound (if this is what they want) be enough? …

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