The Other White Meat

Hmmmm, somehow I don’t see this working:

Publishers should tantalize consumers by evoking books’ sensory pleasures: the smell; the feel in your hands; that crisp, appealing crinkle of a turned page and smooth snap of a dust jacket. Publishers should elicit the joys of “curling up with a book,” the satisfaction of seeing your library on a shelf in your bedroom — the years of your life marked by rows of colorful spines, the pages covered with marginalia. To do this, publishers could borrow vinyl enthusiasts’ lines like, “Records have a certain smell. You can’t smell an MP3,” and, “I associate certain records’ smells with a certain summer, a particular girlfriend.” Audiophiles also discuss fidelity, how records sound undeniably better than MP3s. Surely there’s a book analog waiting to be developed.

Book sniffing. Yes, we’re done.

I seriously doubt that print books are doomed, and if I believed that they were doomed I’d doubt even more that a TV ad campaign could save them. And anyway, as Michael Orthofer points out, publishers would be much more likely to advertise particular books for sale in any bookish medium than to try and shore up print over electronic.

(Incidentally, since the last time I watched serious amounts of TV Clinton was president, I found the descriptions of Kindle ads in the linked article interesting. Will the Kindle finally make reading sexy to the vaunted 18 – 24 male demographic?)



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The analogy to vinyl might be apt, smell notwithstanding. The physical product is important – look at David Carr’s piece on Lucky Peach.

While not every publication has to follow a McSweeney’s dedication to production values, people will return to looking at the book as something meaningful and lasting, as it was seen for centuries, rather than the disposable thing discounted for 40% it became in the hands of publishers in the past few decades.

The kinds of books that are generally mass-produced with the expectation they will be read immediately and then forgotten (political memoir, genre fiction, James Patterson) will likely transfer almost entirely to electronic forms, much like how disposable pop is almost entirely purchased on Itunes or CDs.

The music business is the the model for what will happen to books, only it’s a good thing. The major players will loose lots of money, and there will be far fewer books that everyone reads, but in its place there will occur lots of small and local publishers who put out a quality physical product. Almost every good album today comes out on an independent record label, often self-released. I wouldn’t be surprised to say the same of novels in 10 years.

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