Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Bookstore of the Future

Mmm, my ideal home library

Now, I know the title may sound a little Jetsony or Matrixy, but hear me out on this: what will the bookstore of the future look like in this quickly changing book model? Will physical books be there at all, or will we be browsing book covers like we browse empty DVD containers? Will there be a bar type area where you bring your eReader and purchase digital books to upload them on the spot? Will there be a huge influx of small boutique bookstores tailored to fit niche genres, or on an even smaller scale - in kiosk form? Will the book Megastore ala the Chain evolve into having giant screens showing book trailers, eBook selections, and so much more? Will there be a loss in the sense of community that can only be found at your local bookstore, or will it become the focus? Will the only physical books we hold be the result of Print on Demand Espresso machines, available on a wide scale and replacing big printers as we know it?

Who knows. The point is simply that we don't know. The point is that the world of books is going through such an evolution that all we can do as readers, publishers, and even writers, is change with it. We need to clearly see it all for its limitations as well as its benefits, and work together to make it all harmonize. It is going to suck for the first while. Everyone is feeling out the new model, the new platform, the new production...everything is new. This is a time to create and to innovate like we haven't since Guttenburg created the cultural artifact of the book as we know it.

All of this was the topic of the Bookstore of the Future panel discussion this evening at the Arts and Letters club off of Dundas. The panel was moderated by Steven Beattie, editor of the Quill and Quire, and the debate launched in many different directions by Dan Aronchick, Mark Lefebvre, Sarah Sheard and Becky Toyne. Ideas flew, sparks ignited, books were just as exciting as they always were and more! Though the panel was only an hour and a half and there wasn't enough time for what could have been another awesome organic discussion, it was good. There was a lot of reiteration of the stuff I've heard from lectures, Book Camp, and other events, but the format was pretty refreshing.

Sarah Sheard, providing the point of view of the novelist discussed how we really need to move with optimism towards eBooks from Tree Books, and noted that the benefit of the author without the 'middle man' would be a substantial increase from the usual 15% royalty. She also touched on the importance of closing the gap between readers and writers, and embracing an elegant process of creation that would come out of this.

However, I kind of personally took fault with her distaste for the publishing aspect of getting books out. The publisher, in the scheme of things, is constantly sandwiched in the middle of this kind of situation. Yes, the price of books is an inherent reflection of costs of production, marketing, publicity and printing - all important aspects to getting the book to the reader. On the other side, what must be understood is that publishing is the only industry still operating on a consignment basis - when books do not get sold, they get shipped back to the publisher on a credit, further shaving down the already small 3.5% profit margin that the publisher makes. Sheard proposed that with the permanent implementation of eBooks, the writer would get more of that cut and the publisher wouldn't be able to use the book as a cash-cow profit maker. Yes there are successful grassroots campaigns for authors trying to get their own work out without the 'middle man', but I think it is groundless to suggest that publishers are in it for the money. Really. WHAT money?! The publisher takes a risk on a work that may or may not succeed simply because they believe in it. They pay authors advances that they may never pay out with their royalty agreements. If those books don't sell, they are pulped - the hardest thing for a publisher to even comprehend after all the work that has gone into making that book from start to finish.

Personally, I am not trying to get into this business for the money. I don't think anyone really is there now, or going into it, for that reason. We all love books to death. We want to put out new voices, new work, and innovating webs of words. We want to build relationships with Canadian authors and idea makers. We want to continue to cultivate the rich culture of reading that is inherent and unique to the Canadian market.

I have to say that out of all the panelists, Mark Lefebvre was the most passionate, willing to do ANYTHING to satisfy those he sold books to, and calling the day that bookstores can fill any reader's unique need his 'personal wet dream'. Be it for the audio, digital, or print version of the book, he would love to be the one to put it in the hands of that unique reader. His optimism is really brilliant, and very Literary Eden-esque, and I really fed off his energy for his career. That is something I would definitely love to emulate in my future for sure.

Plus, he has a Print on Demand machine, and he brought in some books that were 'hot off the presses'. I got a copy of Chaucer's Prose! The production values may not be the best, the paperstock a little iffy and the print edgy in some places, but for something printed in 10 minutes, it is an amazing little thing! I can totally see the day coming when books will be able to be customized by paper, cover, and so on in a really short period of time! Really awesome

All in all a really neat evening. I wish I had the energy to go to Stroll Book Launch featuring Shawn Micallef's new book: Psychogeographic Walking Tours of Toronto. If you're on Dundas West, you really should drop in at the Lula lounge to check it out!

All right bookies, I am le tired. Time to hunker down and start reading Fox by Margaret Sweatman like I've been intending to!


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