Look guys and gals in publishing, sit down. You can bring in your Coco Water. Totally. Yeah. We have some gluten-free sandwiches coming in and I promise this won’t affect summer hours. You can still not come in on Friday. Yeah, you can take off your loafers. Whatever.
Ok. I know you’re confused and hurting. Revenues are falling and ebooks are killing your old surefire model of shipping books in big boxes to big stores where they were remaindered and sent back for pulping. We had some good times. Remember all that money you made on cookbooks? Before the Epicurious app? Good times. That shit paid for your house on the Vineyard.
So look, here’s what’s up: you guys are killing yourselves. Like this. You’re paying what? Probably six figures for a book based on Text From Dog, an arguably funny Tumblr that, in book form, will sell a maximum of 5,000 copies and then disappear from the cultural Zeitgeist. I mean you wouldn’t pay some no-talent asshole to pretend to write a work of fiction and then capitalize on her name to sell some garbage, would you? Oh wait, you would. But still. Why? Why are you doing this? Stop.
I love Text From Dog. It’s great fun. But most of the fun is in visiting the website to read new texts from dog, a process I doubt very many people repeat more than once. Read a few texts from dog, chortle, maybe share, and move on. This isn’t a Dickens serialization. This is some dude who is good at faking texts from a dog.
I can see the wheels turning. “This is funny! It’s on the web! We can monetize it! People love dogs! People are stupid! This could make our quarter!” Stop.
You’re about to be flattened. Book piracy is about to smash your top shelf revenue while books like Text From Dog are going to kill any respect we once had for the big six. You guys clearly have no idea what you’re doing and you’re depending on your recent Yale-grad philosophy major Assistant Editor to bring you some hot, hot web trendz to capitalize on. Real fiction and non-fiction? Blah, that’s for old people and nerds. What the kids want to do these days is go into a book store and buy a book based on a Tumblr blog. Because kids are stupid. Also vampires. And sex.
There’s an old saying about the entertainment industry: Nobody knows anything. But you guys are particularly clueless.
You’re doing OK on the aggregate. You’ve taken to ebooks like the iPad-toting naifs you are, ensuring that all major ebook stores carry your work (except for your back catalog. Digitization is hard!) and you’re throwing, I suppose, the bookstores a bone by publishing a few surefire end-cap-able titles like Text From Dog and Shit My Dog Says and Shit My Dad Said To My Dog into the mix. Heck, put Text From Dog by the register and you’re sure to sell at least 10 to folks who think it will be a hilarious gag gift.
What really needs to happen – and won’t – is the creation of content for and by some of the thinkers of the web. And I’m not talking about another Clay Shirky book. That guy doesn’t want you anyway. I’m talking about the old, Raymond-Carver-and-Gordan-Lish back and forth with potential authors. Web writing doesn’t translate well to the long form and I know you’ve been burned before by folks who are funny on screen but suck on paper. You need to stop grabbing the low-hanging dog balls and reach for something a bit meatier. Screw the vampire anal sex fan fic. Focus on some real writing.
Focus on book tours so authors can meet their fans. Focus on bringing up a good author. Focus on marketing and publicity for the little guys. Who have you really championed lately? No one. Maybe that Tiger Mother sociopath. I can name a few major authors from my generation – David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Lethem, maybe Franzen – but in the past, say, decade and a half I couldn’t tell you one up and comer. Not one.
Publishing got rich on Pamela Anderson’s diet book but got famous on Faulkner. Yours is a noble tradition dating back centuries and it’s about to go away. You’re literally as useful now as the wet nurse in modern New York: sure, your services seem great, but when you think about them a little you realize how gross they are. I can publish anything, any time. I don’t need you because you offer so little and expect so much. You hitch a ride on Internet fame, make the Text From Dog dude feel really good for a while (and he should! He got a book deal!) and then look for the next flavor of the second. I got some hot Tumblrs for you if you need them. Lots are porn, but whatever. You’re livin’ on the edge.
Ok. The sandwiches got here. Yeah, I know. You’re not eating any. You’re full of Momofuku. Cool. Before you go back to your desks and then home at 2pm, can we agree that we’re going to stop turning Tumblrs into books? Anyone? Yeah, I know. Soundtracks for books sounds amazing, but can we focus? Anyone? A promise?
Fine. Go back to your desks. But take a sandwich. I’m not throwing this whole tray away.