Publishers don’t just print books, they develop them. Short of alluring cover art or ads run in this newspaper, some books would never get noticed. Without the invaluable dialogue between author and editor, many books would never be worth reading. Discussions of e-book economics often neglect the cost of this development.
So says Michael Fine, president of Fine Creative Media and author of a letter to the editor (linked from the first page of that piece) at the Times, wherein he laments the monolithic way Amazon is eating publishing alive.
I’m with him about one key issue: Just because “anyone can publish a book” doesn’t mean those books are going to be worth reading, and it definitely doesn’t mean anyone apart from you and anyone without shouting distance of you is going to know they exists. The costs of book publishing encompass all of those things and more (like, say, quality copyediting), but keep getting ignored in the race to the bottom.
The most important word is develop. A book isn’t just written — it’s edited, revised, polished, marketed, promoted, and in time (with luck) given a place in our literary history. People seem to think all of this work will simply pass effortlessly into the hands of the collective consciousness of the Internet, but if you ask me there are some things we’re all better off charging upfront for.
Addendum: I’m a self-published author. I think self-publishing is powerful and useful, and I may end up using Amazon’s system before long. I also think self-pub is still very limited vs. traditional publishing in terms of promotion. Slamming self-publishing isn’t on my agenda; I just want people to not look at it with too many pairs of rose-colored glasses on. I’ll have much more to say about this before long.