Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Writer's Bail Out

Finally, a bail out I might be able to get behind!

In this Sunday's Book Review preview of The New York Times, Paul Greenberg explores what it might mean--and cost--to bail out the publishing industry in his article, "Bail Out the Writers!"

Interestingly enough, Greenberg is not advocating simply throwing more money at publishers in the hope that they can support themselves in a floundering economy with a dwindling demand for books. Instead, Greenberg identifies book overcapacity as the predominant problem in the industry--that is, demand is far less than supply because there are, quite simply, too many books out there. He writes, "According to the industry tracker Bowker, about 275,000 new titles and editions are published in the United States each year. Let’s say we want to eliminate half of them. Assuming it takes about two years to write your average book, we would offer book writers two years of salary at the writers’ average annual income of $38,000 a year. Add it all up and you get a paltry $10.5 billion to dramatically reduce the book overcapacity." I'm unsure how I feel about paying people not to write...

The problem is this: people like the idea of writing much more than writing itself. As Ann Beattie wrote, "To many, writing is not so interesting as being a writer, and when writers go on tour, it reinforces people's belief that it's all a package: you create something (details saved for future memoir), you get out there and network and promote it all the way to success, because success is the American Way." Writing is considered (mistakenly) one of the get-rich-quick paths to success, and getting a book published is more about making money than producing a work of literature.

As long as people believe that there is a market for the crap they're shilling, they'll keep pumping out their books, whether it's through traditional publishing houses or vanity publishing. It's all in the public's mistaken perception of writing as (a) lucrative and (b) easy, and nothing will change until that perception does.

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