Doing it the Penguin way

So, what is the future of publishing? As always, it makes sense to study the lessons of the past, as James Bridle does in this excellent little essay on Allan Lane of Penguin Books fame. Dig the image of Lane’s book vending machine, below–I always wondered why there weren’t more of these things. Though Bridle deftly answers that question himself with a key point about reading, and books, that’s typically lost sight of in all the discussion about our brave new digital future:

The book — by which I mean long-form text, in any format — is not a physical thing, but a temporal one. Its primary definition, its signal quality, is the time we take to read it, and the time before it and the time after it that are also intrinsic parts of the experience: the reading of reviews and the discussions with our friends, the paths that lead us to it and away from it (to other books) and around it.

Bridle then goes on to advance an argument many are making lately–that readers will become more interested in authors and their books if they can just learn more about the interesting things that go into creating them: “We need to make visible the full life of the book: the months of writing and editing; the book as advertisement for, and latterly souvenir of, itself; the book as site of engagement and start of a conversation.”

I don’t agree. I think few things about books are as unappealing to readers as the drudgery that goes into creating them, those “months of writing and editing” which mostly involve sitting for long hours and moving bits of text. It’s what that text says that matters. I think very few writers (Neil Gaiman comes to mind) have the passion, the charisma, and the ability to communicate those qualities that are necessary to engage readers in their careers as writer, as opposed to their writing itself. Unless, of course, you’re talking about gossip…

But I am all for learning the lessons all around us as we plan our way forward. What we learn, though, is just as important.

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