Our commissioning editor, D. S. Mills, offers an opinion on the r-e-volution in publishing.
Publishers will be the last people to correctly forecast the future of books. As they hurry down their corridors of fear, or exit their impressive foyers where past failures glimmer from the shelves, their minds are occupied with professional survival.
But for those who have long been their fodder, the perennially embattled authors, the shadow of coming events is visible already.
Whatever happened to the village booksmith?
Well, we know what happened to the village blacksmith.
Fabrication, mass production and world-wide distribution.
Now consider the plight of the village booksmith - for example, the old-style Australian publisher. A substantial book is commissioned - perhaps something to do with local history or an artistic or academic study relating to a national issue. Because the writing and research must be comprehensive, it could be years before the final draft is ready. Then comes editing, proof-reading, legal vetting, production, marketing, distribution... all requiring effort, money, time and care.
Eventually, six or seven years since inception and after considerable expense, the book is launched.
By then, the issue that was the reason for the project could have cooled or become irrelevant. And the expensive result - priced at, say, $39.95, is bought by one hundred and fifty libraries and - with luck - five thousand readers, although the marketing department had hoped for twice those sales. The worthy addition to the publisher's 'list' becomes another flop d'estime that barely covers cost.
Whatever happened to the journeyman writer?
Everyone from Balzac to John Grisham have been forced to finance themselves - to flog their books to an unwilling public any way they could. The obtuseness and obstructionism of publishers has plagued writers over centuries.
Publishers, naturally, oppose this view and see themselves as protecting the reader from trash. There is truth in this. But the perception of publishers as paragons of insight is still in question as the few genuine successes that each firm, to its vast surprise, achieves finance the vast crop of duds they frantically overproduce each year.
As for aspirant writers, most lack talent. Writing, unfortunately, is the most accessible art and cheapest to produce. Anyone can pick up a pen or spread inanities over Facebook. Writing is also seen, by dreamers, as the way to fortune and fame.
Nothing could be further from the truth but still this myth persists because that most irrational of sentiments - human hope - is one of our few defences against hard facts.
Today, the most untalented hopefuls can place their drivel directly online. Their 5,000 word attempt at pornography, reduced by their banality to hamfisted smut is classified as a 'book' and, thanks to Photoshop, adorned by a half-convincing cover featuring much flesh and lurid text. These 'writers', blinded by dollar signs, pump out as many of such half-baked efforts as they can, hoping that quantity will aid sales.
Whatever happened to the old-time reader?
Is grandma really reading her true romance and cosy murders on a tablet? Some are. Many modern grandmas have embraced the new technology.
Or is grandma still browsing the bookshops?
What bookshops? Slowly the stores close as the business model fails.
Bookshops will survive in some form, but vastly curtailed. Pop-up picture books for very small children may still have a run and coffee-table travel books, the odd atlas with a contoured surface or illustrated book of birds. In this post-literate age, the reading experience will decline. The new generation, wanting interactive aps, will be satisfied for a while - until something more immersive appears. The pace of IT technology will eventually cause a reaction that moves people back to a more intelligent experience.
Some will rediscover the inner vision of traditional text - the freedom to imagine released by letters on a page of screen.
You doubt this?
How has Anzac Day survived in Australia with the old diggers dead? The young ones take on the cause, become interested again. How have the Savoy Operas survived for two hundred years? Timeless quality, and affectionate response.
If something is worthwhile, it has a chance, at least, to persist.
What does the book need now?
What it has always needed. The book needs to be worthwhile. Among the endless e-xploitation some quality works need to shine. And so, we need eBook publishers who forsake quantity and dross for quality. They will possibly languish for years, but eventually make a name when discerning readers find and trust them.
And the process will begin again. Good books from a good publisher. But, this time, online.
That is the primary aim of Buzzword Books. We may not make it. But, as they say, we'll give it a damn good shake.