Over at Jason Pinter's blog he has some people expressing their ideas on how to fix publishing. There's some interesting stuff being written, mostly about things publishers need to do surrounding marketing, promotion, business models, eBooks, etc. There very well might be some good ideas to be be pulled out of these suggestions but I still have to think the biggest problem is the big houses move towards "safe" books. Books like the Harry Potter series, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo prove that there are readers who will flock to exciting, compelling books if they're published. The problem is the large houses need to be willing to step outside the lines more often, trust their readers more, and quit feeling the need to only publish the "commercially relentless" cookie-cutter genre books that they're mass producing in droves. Anyway, I'm going to comment on some of the comments on Jason's blog, but first I want to make one obvious observation: indie bookstores are crucial for the health of publishers and the future of books, and right now they're struggling. A few years ago NY City had 4 mystery bookstores, which for a city of over 8 million people doesn't seem like that much. Now they have 2. When Small Crimes came out I had an event at Robin's Bookstore in Philly (the oldest bookstore in that city), and the owner, Larry Robin, impressed me as being someone passionate about books. A few weeks after the event, he announced he was shutting down, saying it's impossible in today's climate for a retail bookstore to survive. This same scenario is playing out everywhere. If you truly care about books and their survival, buy your books at your local indie bookstore--even if it costs you an extra buck or two. When the people who are the most passionate about books are out of the picture, then we're really in trouble.
Now for commenting on the commenting:
Author John McFetridge suggests that all formats of a book be released at the same time: eBook, hardcover, paperback, etc. As an author I hear John, especially with the price of hardcovers they're mostly only for collectors and libraries these days. But publishers have a good reason for releasing paperbacks a year or so after hardcovers, and that's so that the reviews, word-of-mouth, etc., generate interest for the paperback, so I think this would end up sabotaging paperback sales. Putting out eBooks and hardcovers together does seem to make sense.
Sarah Weinman is asking the industry to take a bottom up approach, make the reader more involved in the process. I think that's already happening. 100s of thousands of books are being either self-published or given away free on peoples web-sites/blogs, and the few that garner attention have been getting bought by NY. Again, the real issue is if NY could move past "safe" and commercial books and trust their instincts and readers, more of these books would be published by them initially, instead of going the route they've been going.
Scott Siglar talks about using podcasting to generate large audiences for books that were ignored by NY, and later was able to get contracts for. His point is that publishers need to watch the free content out there and see what books are proving themselves. I think NY is currently doing that, as Scott and Seth Harwood have proved. The problem is the "free content" will soon become a mess as 10s of thousand try to duplicate the success of Scott and Seth in podcasting, and David Wellington in blog serializing. The real issue again is NY taking more risks and not rejecting these books in the first place.
David Montgomery suggests the industry promote reading as a leisure activity, I guess sort of like a "Got Milk" campaign. While authors like Ian Flemming and Walter Mosley were helped a lot when John Kennedy and Bill Clinton were seen with their books, that was more readers finding out about those authors as opposed to new readers being created. Ads featuring celebrities reading books or "the cool kids" reading aren't going to get kids away from their video games. But again, as the Harry Potter books show, if publishers put out compelling books, readers will flock to them.