Mostly (not) on McSweeney's!

A blog for my academic ideas, more or less.

Bookcamp; The Publishing Industry

Penguin have announced Bookcamp, a day of discussions in London about the future of the book. It’s a riff on BarCamps (“an international network of user generated conferences — open, participatory workshop-events, whose content is provided by participants”).

The book industry is in a bit of a state. As Jeremy Ettinghausen writes over on the Penguin Blog, there is ‘The Fear’ because of the economic downturn and people cutting spending on ‘luxury’ items. (That reading should be a luxury! Am determined to force my students to read more next year, to convey to them how important reading can be, what benefit it has for society that we read and understand the world better.)

When I get to telling people about my research recently, I’ve been trying to find ways to explain what relevance my work has to larger issues. And the question that I’ve been returning to more and more is “why do people read books?”. McSweeney’s is a great example of a successful literary enterprise – not everything they do works, but they seem to have a good understanding of a) what their readers want and b) how to flag this fact up to readers.

This issues fascinates me – why do people buy McSweeney’s? What difference does it make if they subscribe or buy it in a bookstore? How does their website represent their publishing concern? What about the issue of books as objects vs. ebooks? What will sell more? What function do bookstores have? Who is reading? Is there any way to cut down on the popular side of bookselling (biographies, crime, cookery, etc) to increase literary concerns? Is this desirable? Quantity vs. quality. Can literature survive? What forms should literature take? Should it follow the lessons of successful books, or go in a different direction entirely? This is what I think McSweeney’s does, and the idea of not trying to be the absolute best but having modest aims, is perhaps the way forward. Matching your creative endeavour to a small audience, rather than thinking it can appeal to everyone.

Am not sure what I could offer Bookcamp but unbridled enthusiasm and some second-hand bookselling expertise, but might look into pestering James at booktwo.org to attend…

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