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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Apps and Reading Sprawl

Some Thoughts from Peter Ginna, publisher and editorial director of Bloomsbury Press

Last night my wife went to a party celebrating Elizabeth Strout, who won the Pulitzer Prize this year for her collection Olive Kitteridge The event was held at The Mercantile Library Center for Fiction — a place you should know about. A private library in New York founded in 1820, the Merc has mutated in a center for fiction — reading it, writing it, discussing it, celebrating, as well as housing novels and short stories on its shelves. The chair of the Center is Peter Ginna of Bloomsbury (the company as a whole, adult and kids), and Marina came back with a handout that included his take on books and their future. I thought his ideas were interesting and wanted to share them with you. 

Like anyone in publishing and concerned with books, he has to consider what the future holds. As Marina told me, every novelist at that reception is having trouble selling a book to a publisher, or, if she has a book out, getting it reviewed. or even if it has been noticed, getting anyone to buy it. That’s from the author’s point of view. Multiply those stories of silence and quiet sales times a whole catalog and you have the publisher’s problem — made especially bad for those large houses which are part of cash-crunched media giants looking for ways to cut their costs. And yet, both Ginna and the crowd of fiction writers at the event express a convincing optimism that sounds more like real insight than wishful thinking.

Ginna argues that "the future of books…looks very bright to me. I mean the word ‘books’ broadly — for me, it includes texts you’d read on a Kindle or graphic novels" as well as standard hardcovers and paperbacks. I must say that the K-12 library came to this expanded understanding of books years ago. Still, his point is that people want to read — read in improving ereaders, read with pictures, read regular old fashioned books with pages that turn. We are at a moment of reading sprawl. In fact he notes that, at least according to one blog, "the fastest-growing category of application int eh iPhone App store are apps for reading books." Now, to be a cynic, maybe that happened to be the week Apple agreed to let the Kama Sutra be a download. But at the least it shows that the whole construct of new technology versus (or replacing) old-fashioned storytelling is false. We use the new to access the old, the new will lead to new forms of writing, illustrating, and storytelling, and the new will live side by side with the old. 

This reading explosion does pose financial challenges to publishers (and thus authors). But that is not the same as implying a death of reading, or books, or print culture. But, as I said, even the novelists were feeling glints of optimism — more on that in my next post.