The book is dead. The only people who take it seriously are writers. And the people in publishing who need their paychecks to pay the rent.
The Great American Public is not buying books. As the reading population increases in numbers (the statistics indicating that more people are reading more books is misleading as it's more accurate to say that the same people are reading only half the books they buy) it's NOT keeping up with the population increase in terms of people who COULD be reading (and investing in books) but are not even tempted. Only five percent of graduating seniors in high school even read at the college level. The average high school freshman is reading at the sixth-grade level and writing (not enthusiastically) at the-third grade level. Fifty percent of sixth-graders are reading at the second grade level. Children spend more time on computers whether they're plugged in or hand-held than they do with books. And they're mainly talking to their peers in code. The best and the brightest at the Master's level are NOT going into publishing. The notion that the best and the brightest go into publishing is absurd.
Here's how publishing stacks up:
Women (and NOT the bright ones) are running publishing, and there's a glass ceiling, and they know it. Publishers are now mid-management. They're not much more than very nervous accountants. It's men who sit on the Boards of Directors of the (mostly German and French) international corporations that own the American publishing houses. NOT women. The men at let's say Bertelsman (the owner was in the Nazi SS during World War 2) issue the marching orders. The women in management obey. The women would ALL love to be on the boards but they have no money.
Bertlesman itself is not all that happy with its investment in American publishing. They are currently considering divesting themselves of those assetts in favor of technology communication and content. When FOX describes in its public relations information just exactly what assetts it owns, they frequently don't even mention (perhaps it's not worth mentioning of they just forgot) Harper-Collins.
Rupert Murdoch is investing LESS (as is the trend) in books and MORE in information technology and content.
Holt moved. It could not afford the rent.
A hundred people are being fired at Houghton Mifflin as I write this.
Bret Easton Ellis and The Runaway Bride are being looked at as the new hot properties of 2006.
If publishing is becoming more and more irrelevent to the culture at large, and it is, do the math, these companies have no one to blame but the gatekeepers themselves.
Let us look at them. Or her. She has a BA from Brown. She comes from a generation of women who for some odd reason were all named Jennifer.
She's in her twenties. She was surprised when they hired her as an editorial assistant, and she realized right away that if she worked real hard she could become much more than that. No more Manolos for a while anyway.
She answers the phone. She wields the real power.
She is much more aware than her editor that technology is changing publishing and fast. She is biding her time. She knows something she did not know before and that is that another opportunity will open for her if she wants it. At first she wasn't sure. But now she's sure. She does NOT want to become a publicist. She discovers that they're slugs. They slave over books they not only do not read, but they have no intention of ever reading any of them, and if you ask them if they actually READ the books they lie about they will look at you like -- are you mad? It is a dead end job that functions more as a travel agent and Jennifer does not know Charlie Rose anyway.
She does worry (as opposed to her boss who is going to be fired in two months) that the book is becoming less and less relevant, but if she just works hard and holds out long enough, twenty people in front of her will leave, and she can crawl and claw her way to the top.
And she will, too.
Ask any of them. When no one is looking she reads GAWKER.
She thinks writers are pampered brats but she doesn't tell them that. Yet.
I have seen these women become editors in less than a year. They are rather hip and they do buy those Manolos eventually.
When they become editors all of them become quite fat. In Manolos.
The smart ones become agents.
They are few and far between.
They not only "get" the new communication technology, they use it.
While their boss has blocked anyone who might come to her through Everyone Who's Anyone in Publishing dot com, and she thinks email was invented to sell porn which horrifies her. She won't last. The chick who keeps her schedule wants her job, and she'll get it, too.
Jennifer has stopped looking for a man in publishing. There are so few and they're taken.
She wants a stockbroker anyway.
She wants to broker a deal herself with ICM and she's sharpening her chops to do it.
Her publisher (who she secretly laughs at in bars) is from Simon and Schuster where she published Beavis and Butthead.
You think I'm kidding. I'm not.
Jennifer does make mistakes sometimes. When Nasdijj calls and talks to her about some books he'd like to write she says: But we've done enough black books this year. And Nasdijj is not even black.
I've gotten that answer about six times this summer alone.
And then all the people dying to get into this fading industry scream at Nasdijj that there is no racism in publishing on websites everywhere.
Nasdijj would confront all of this silliness with enraged essays but he's washing his hair that night.
The book is dead as a doornail. And what bed, pray tell, is your future in?