The idea that the book industry may be in something that rhymes with "trouble" and is spelled the same way, too, is not a new one. I bet if I was to pick a year at random, say 1890, and search a single big time print source, say the New York Times, I can find at least one article talking about the publishing industry being in jeopardy. Book people are worriers. We are always afraid that the masses are about to rise up and burn our books. Let us look at this way, though. According to Wikipedia entry "List of best-selling books", Dune, one of the most influential and memorable and highest praised Science Fiction novels of all times, has sold 12 million copies. Wow, right? Notice this, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com, if we assume an average of $10 a ticket (which is high), Up has already sold as many tickets in two weeks as Dune has sold books in the past forty years. Sure, you can point out that each of those tickets represents a single viewing, and some people may have bought a couple of tickets and each copy of the book has been read an average of twice and such and such library has checked out its copy a dozen times; but that is just the thing. The book industry is going to look at the number of people willing to pay to sit down and a see a new movie just once without anything like souvenirs, and how they line up for this honor and even pay extra dollars just to have overpriced snacks while doing it, plan their whole weekend around it, and they are going to go hmmm.
Rant aside, I laughed a lot while reading the Cracked.com article "5 Kickass Lessons Books Could Learn from the Movies". For those about to rip Cracked a new one, keep in mind one thing, the article is more about tearing into the movie industry than tearing into the book industry. Look at the five: pointless, soulsucking sequels; pointless explosions; suspenseful music to make up for effects and bad acting; celebrity cameos without purpose; and slow motion effects. Feel free to point out the flaws in this theory. Books have had sequels for some time. There are something like forty canonical sequels to The Wizard of Oz. There are a mass of Sherlock Holmes and Alan Quartermain and Tarzan sequels. It is has often been the weaker-in-fiction but stronger-in-sales books that have them. Books have explosions, sort of. If not slow-motion, what would you call Shelley's langorous descriptions of nature in Frankenstein? Music? Well, you may have me there; but Philip K. Dick tapped into the beauty of John Dowland while reading and writing, Brian Keene and Stephen King both talk about music a lot in their blogs and in their works, and Stephenie Meyer, one of the big writers at the mo, has famously quipped, "I can't write without music." She even gives a playlist for Twilight so you can see what songs inspired what bits. Who's to say that the Kindle DX-2 isn't going to include a OST ready download, for $9.99 more, get the songs that inspired the book!
I think you are about to see the beginning of the multi-media book soon. Not the beginning, per se, since that has been around, but the beginning in the sense that you had home consoles before the Nintendo Famicon, and they even did pretty well, but there was something about the Famicon that boomed and made everyone know they needed one. There are books with pictures and links to things now, but pretty soon you will probably find links to pictures of the monuements being described, sound clips of how to pronounce names, links to dictionaries, instant links to blog entries about certain passages, and so forth. I kind of welcome it, especially if it is done in a way that is optional. The ePub format already includes way to imbed media into them, and several ebook readers include look up features that link to dictionaries and (maybe) Wikipedia. It is just a matter of time before someone finds out a way to enhance it and make it stick.
There is one "kickass lesson" that books do need to learn from movies by the way. You try finding out how many copies Michael Connelly's Scarecrow is selling, or how many copies Mark Levin's book Liberty and Tyranny has moved. According to the currently current NYT Bestseller's list, these are the top selling hardcover fiction and non-fiction, respectively, and Levin's book is also the current number one at Amazon.com's book selection. It is selling, but how much? Newspapers, magazines, TV shows, and websites will cram the numbers from the recent movies down our throats. In fact, movies have become something of a de facto description of the health of the nation. When movies do well, notice how people act like maybe things are not that bad, but when there are a bad couple of weekends in a row, people seem to get anxious. Between our delight in finding out that an industry is doing well, and our delight in participating in the popular, movies are kicking books' ass. Let's be honest for a moment, Da Vinci Code with its respectable 60 million plus copies, sold those because it sold 20 million plus copies. Twilight with its proms and its Didi-Goths, sold more copies when there were movies and posters and calendars than when there weren't those things. People bought those books, catch this, because other people had bought those books. Shazam! People eat up books when other people eat books. Books have to learn how to go viral if they want to survive.
And us book snobs have to stop treating the word "best-seller" as a pejorative.
Si Vales, Valeo
For those curious about my lead in paragraph, I did not find any 1890's quotes on the troubled status, however, a search through their archives on "book industry in trouble" brings up articles from the 1960s and beyond. Like I said, people have been talking about it awhile.
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Written by Doug Bolden
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