The Oracle Series Part 5: The Future of Publishing…Drowned in Martinis and Poutine

And just like the sex you wish you could have with that stripper, you’re dying to experience la poutine. That’s why we’ve got the martinis; liquid courage.
Well, hello again. Here, Clive’s making apple martinis and poutine today. Mmmm. For those of you who are new to The Edge, we’ve been running the Oracle Series, a follow-up to my guest blog post in Rita’s world. On Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, I expanded on the first five predictions that Carlos and I shared in the Writer’s Companion about where the publishing industry will be in ten years. For the entire list (so you can properly build your argument for or against our predictions) check out my guest post over in Rita’s World. On Wednesday, we took a little break and Rita came over to The Edge to share her journey in self-publishing and how her YA novel “Tears” came to be. Thursday we jumped right back into the future of publishing with Prediction #5.
Today we’re diving once more into the fray, with the Oracle’s sixth, seventh and eighth predictions for the publishing industry. What have we cast into the fire this time?
Prediction #6
Two-thirds of traditional book retailers will have disappeared.
The trend is unstoppable. Some Indie book retailers will scrounge a living from keepsakes, but the bulk of leisure and impulse books will be digital. A few will survive by diversifying their offer, much as bookshops at airports where one can find luggage straps, aspirin, diapers, drinks, and snacks among the books.
The big chains will fare worse and will be forced to drastically change their business model, to a point where books contribute only a fraction of their turnover. This doesn’t mean that their book division will vanish. They will regroup it in the Internet and live to fight another day.
Prediction #7
The number of readers will increase.
People read fewer books, this might be true, but the time dedicated to absorb information has increased dramatically in the last decades. While people may spend less time reading books, they use phenomenal chunks of time to text, blog, hang about social networks, play games, and watch TV (all of which need content).
With more free time and so much information floating about, people soak up information and are greedy for content. This is great news for writers.
In addition, though the number of readers is decreasing in the West, it’s exploding elsewhere. In the East and Africa there’s a trifle of over three billion potential readers. THREE BILLION!! Come on, that’s a lot of eyes.
Prediction #8
A large percentage of successful writers will issue from the East.
This sounds insane and completely out of left field, I know. But it’s not. This is another logical outcome of the development of Eastern countries. English is the Esperanto of the XXI century. In almost every country, millions are learning English as a vehicle to communicate with a wider segment of the world’s population. This will promote generations of freelance and creative writers using the English language as their vehicle of choice, which in turn will overflow to Western countries. The East is taking over, however surreptitiously, scores of niches in the global market and it’s naïve to assume they won’t try their hand at all levels of publishing and writing.
My personal opinion on this (as in, not Carlos’s) is that because these new writers have studied English, and I mean not half-assed as we “native” English speakers do, they will have the necessary skills to write well. They will succeed in this industry.
I believe that anyone not taking the time to understand the language of creative writing, to know the nuts and bolts of your own language and how to use those to construct coherent, smooth prose, is a fool. You’ll be left behind, choking on the dust of these men and women who did take the time to fully grasp the intricacies of English and grammar. Won’t it be embarrassing to have someone for whom English is a second language writing circles around you? I think so. In fact, Carlos has taught me a thing or ten about English. Made me sit up and take notice of what I blindly refused to learn because I thought I didn’t have to. And boy, did I make sure I worked my ass off to catch up to him.
Now, I’m really curious to know your thoughts on this one. I know for some of you, it’s a head-scratch-worthy prediction, but we feel that writers like these really will change the face of publishing. Would it be a good change? For readers, I think so.
Come join me tomorrow for the final installment of the Oracle Series, in which we become somber, and hammered.

10 thoughts on “The Oracle Series Part 5: The Future of Publishing…Drowned in Martinis and Poutine

  1. #6 – Sad, but true. Borders was huge, and was my favorite book retailer, aside from the used book stores I haunt. If they can be forced out of business, it's only a matter of time before other giants fall, as well. Books-a-million will be next, IMO. #7 – Agreed. Like I mentioned in my short story blog post, e-readers are making reading "trendy." #8 – I'll have to think about this one. Granted, many of today's new releases are by "foreign" authors, mainly from Africa and eastern Europe. But I don't necessarily think the number of writers from the east are on any sort of sharp rise. If this prediction does come to pass, it will be good for readers and writers. For readers, book quality will increase. For writers, it will give us good competition. We will be pushed to improve, to keep up. We will have a lot to learn from. I do wholeheartedly agree, though, that writers for whom English is a second language can and will write circles around those of us who feel like we don't need to learn the basics of the language and grammar.

  2. I have to admit, I was one of those writers. I assumed I had a fairly good grasp of the language, MY language, and didn't need to learn anything. How humbling to have others who had to learn it later in life correct me. It's a valuable learning experience and one that a few more writers could use. But you're right, it's a sketchy prediction, and one that might be impossible for some to fully agree or disagree with. We'll have to see what happens, right?

  3. #6 is very sad. Those little coffee shops in bookstore chains always seemed full of eager people reading and discussing books.#7 & #8 are interesting. I wonder if Eastern readers would enjoy Western books or if they would prefer books by their own nationality.

  4. #6 makes me sad too. I love finding a corner of the bookstore to read in and being in a place full of "like minds" makes my heart smile. But, as writers we can't afford to indulge in wishful thinking. We need to gear our plans for world domination according to the reality. Good question on #7 and #8. I'm curious too.

  5. But culture is a big barrier. Granted a Chinese person can master the English language, but would they be able to write a book so firmly and deeply rooted in our Western culture that Western readers would find it palatable?I've read quite a few books by African writers, mainly Kenyan, and while they are engaging and technically good, they and I have a lack of common ground. The concepts of e.g. society they take for granted are foreign to me. No pun intended. It's like science fiction written by aliens. We do not have a mutual base of understanding.I suspect the same thing applies, but even more so, for new authors from China, Japan and Korea.Consider the film 'The Ring'. The Japanese version is truly terrifying. The Hollywood remake is run-of-the-mill.Why?Because the Japanese one is made with different cultural values, so it's strange and disturbing to us Westerners. Then add in the horror element and bingo – a truly creepy film.I rest my case.

  6. Interesting, Paul. And very valid. I've watched excerpts of The Ring (Japanese version) and you're right. Scared me enough to not want to watch the entire thing. Yet, the Hollywood version was, meh.

  7. María makes a few good points, as usual, and so does Rita. I love the “inherent flaw” bit; señora, your acerbic pen is as caustic as ever.My lack of articulation is the flaw, and I stand told off. In my opinion, we continue looking at developments and gazing into the future while entrenched in the present, as if whatever is commonplace today must necessarily be so tomorrow. One of the greatest weaknesses of most SF and Fantasy genres is that the players display physical and psychical resemblance to humans. It appears that any conceivable being must be capable of similar feelings, have similar vices and even similar biological mechanisms to the ones we know.Conversely, we also assume that whatever has existed during our lifetime, must surely continue one way or another after we depart this valley of disenchantment and aridity. Do you remember terry diapers? Petticoats? Okay, let’s try an example closer to our interests. Do you remember writing letters in longhand and waiting a fortnight for reply? Had we queried anyone about the future of writing letters with real ink on real paper the answer would have been: “they will always be around.” And they do, but as a rarity, and more often than not the culprits of such obsolescence are silly old fools like me. I bet many people in their late teens or early twenties have never written a meaningful letter in longhand. And the reason? We have other means of communication, perhaps less demanding and less revealing. I never stated we would cease reading (yet), only that the vehicle will be different. María points out that traditional publishers scoop e-book rights as if there was no tomorrow, and once more she’s right. For publishers it means changing the model, and agents will follow because they’re two aspects of the same industry.We did The Oracle as a divertimento. After slaving for years writing for The Companion we wanted to end the book with something different. But we gave much thought to each issue, not from the standpoint of writers but that of neutral bystanders with good memory and a fair knowledge of history. If e-readers become as ubiquitous as cell phones, paper books will be as common as handwritten letters.Do we need books? Most of us would answer yes. Are we sure? Do we need them? Could it be we are used to them? I could list scores of things we used to need, like 35mm film. Had we predicted, say twenty years ago, that mighty Kodak would one day be struggling to survive, how many would have agreed? Polaroid?And even closer to our hearts: Do we need Internet? I guess that the answer from almost anyone would be a rotund yes. But I don’t think we do. At least I don’t think we need it, in the sense of usefulness. We are addicted to Internet, and in this sense, we need it, but it’s a sick need we can’t control. When did we lose control of our lives? We review the features of the latest iPad with the same awed reverence we read about the features of the Nautilus, a vessel capable of 20,000 miles under the sea. But there’s a vast difference. Captain Nemo was a human being commanding dizzying technology, we are human beings commanded by a dizzying technology. And the future of books goes hand in hand with the new lifetime bondage we’re embracing with gusto. Just a thought, could this be Huxley’s Soma?Can we imagine English as a dead language, only understood by a few erudites and spoken by no one? No? Well, the Romans couldn’t have conceived either that their language would disappear. It did.

  8. Paul always manages to add invigorating aspects to any discussion, often pointing out different or unforeseen angles from which to evaluate the matter at hand. He also loves to stoke the fires and push up the steam. I’m convinced that in another reincarnation Paul designed steam engines. I side with him in his appreciation of the difference between the world as seen by an American, and Australian or a British citizen (which, regardless of many a writer’s ill-conceived plots are not synonymous), and that of a Kalahari San Man. But I don’t agree with the rest of his contentions. It reminds me of a British joke, where a gentleman plans to travel through “the continent,” which is how the British view Europe. “And, how will you manage to communicate with the locals?” a friend asks.“I will speak English.”“And if they don’t understand you?”“Then I will speak louder.”I’m sorry, but the world as seen by Saxons is not de facto the real world, but their subjective and often partisan understanding of society and history. The inherent richness of a liberal education and culture stems from the ability to view and interpret the world through the eyes of writers with different concepts of ethics, aesthetics, values, and principles. Kipling’s celebration of British imperialism has little to do with the real India of Upamanyu Chatterjee, Babu Devakinandan Khatri, or that of my revered Rabindranath Tagore. And the same can be said of the Japan portrayed by James Clavell or Mo Hayder (her claim to the intricacies of the Japanese ethos is grounded on a stint as hostess in a Tokyo night club), when compared with that of Natsume Soseki or Junichiro Tanizaki. The Russia of Edward Rutherfurd bears no resemblance to that of Chejov or Solzhenitsyn, and after reading James Michener’s “Iberia” I wondered if the writer had ever set foot in the land of Don Quijote, let alone understood the Mediterranean culture.The English language is an excellent vehicle—it has become the Esperanto of the modern age—but pandering to readers by portraying the world as it should be according to the inhabitants of English-speaking countries is… too much. We read–at least I do–to find out about the writer's ground, not expecting that it will conform to mine. For me, that's the magic of culture.

  9. That poutine looks heart-stopping.#6: No argument here.#7: I would take this one step further and say that the kinds of things we read will be shorter. This is a fairly easy prediction to make because we can trend that over the last 100 years. Books are getting shorter. Some of it is due to shelving, but a greater part, I suspect is due to our shorter attention spans.#8: Technically, true. But will their audience be the Western world? That remains to be seen. We might speak the same language, but we are still culturally apart. Even UK English is pasteurized for US audiences. It's a silly exercise on the publisher's part, but it still happens. For myself, if it's a UK author, I want to read it in his voice, not a dubbed one.But as far as non-English based countries, it might take several more years to close the cultural gap between us. I don't know though. It's an interesting hypothesis.

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