As for the third factor fostering the illusion of prosperity, it was well known in the business that, during the Depression, books, like movies, had done splendidly. They were an inexpensive distraction, consumable at home at a time when not much else pleasurable was going on. Ergo, books would be no less recession-proof in the next big downturn.All of which is pretty gloomy, it has to be said. But here’s the thing: for writers like me, by which I mean someone who isn’t making enough money out of writing to justify doing it, nothing has changed. I’ll keep writing anyway, hoping someone will pick up my next book, and the next book after that. Besides, what else would I be doing with those three spare minutes a day?
There was no reason to believe otherwise ... unless you happened to focus on just how many dazzling entertainment options had, in the interim, entered the American home at prices more than competitive with the book. After all, most Americans can now read endlessly on the Internet, play video games, download music, watch movies and even write their own novels without stepping outside. The $27.95 hardcover and the $15.95 paperback, meanwhile, are hardly inexpensive. Publishers nonetheless clung to this bit of Depression-era lore for dear life as economic bad times bore down. Wrongly, as it turned out …
The book remains a techno-wonder that not even the Kindle has surpassed. But it’s a wonder in a very crowded entertainment universe and a world plunging into the worst of times. The chain bookstore, the bloated publishing house and the specific corporate way of publishing that goes with them are indeed in peril. This may no longer be their time. As for the time of the book, it does seem to be shortening as well.
Meanwhile, publishers can’t afford not to support their big sellers, and they can also afford to take relatively cheap punts on the bottom-feeders, hoping that one or two of them will pay off. Which means that it’s probably the mid-listers who are going to get squeezed over the next couple of years. Or am I being excessively pessimistic?