It’s the custom (or stubborn habit) around newspapers to reflect on the 11 months gone by when December arrives. “Best of” lists occupy the attention of many writers, including this one (see mine here), so their creation does force us to be reflective in a business where reaction usually trumps reflection.
But changes don’t come gift-wrapped in tidy 12-month packages. In the world of American book publishing, 2011 flowed gradually from 2010 without sudden shocks or change, the nature of the passing year shaped by the inevitable progress of movements in the business that started years before.
One image captured the direction of that movement concisely — Daniel Clowes’ cover for the Dec. 5 New Yorker titled “Black Friday.” The cartoon shows a store with shelves filled with T-shirts, caps, bags and figurines of famous authors and a table displaying e-readers. Only a bottom shelf carries a row of print books.
It’s the bookstore of tomorrow, if you can find an actual bookstore (cognoscenti call them “bricks and mortar”) these days. The traditional business model, which is at least 200 years old, centers around new hardcover books prominently displayed in a bricks-and-mortar outlet where shoppers browse looking for familiar names or interesting covers.
That model is slowly slipping away, to be replaced by versions of the one on the New Yorker cover. Eventually, the new plan envisions a small space where only the covers of available books will be displayed along with that small digital square.
You’ll scan the square with your phone, buy the book online and then you’ll choose if you want an ebook or tell the store to print on paper no less, a real book on its copier/binder machine.
Cartoonist Clowes is no great seer. It seems clear he was inspired by an article in another magazine, “The Book on Publishing” by Keith Gessen in the October Vanity Fair.
Mr. Gessen, a young novelist and journalist, tells us he is a close friend of Chad Harbach, the “wonder boy” of 2011 who sold his novel, “The Art of Fielding,” for $665,000 advance to Little, Brown. For a first-time (or anytime) author it’s like getting one of those multimillion-dollar bonuses paid to executives of bailed-out banks.
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