Sitting in a Cardboard Box, Saying Vroom Vroom, and Pretending It’s a Car

June 27th, 2009

The title of this blog is the title of a presentation to be made this weekend in Austin, Texas by Michael Murphy, a 27-year veteran of the book publishing business.

I read about it on Ron Hogan’s fun blog on MediaBistro today titled, “Making the Future Up As We Go Along.”

When I saw that title I suspected the post would be about a subject near and dear to my heart: as much as various executives, experts and analysts put on a brave face suggesting that they’ve got everything under control, I believe that we’re making endless stabs in the dark, hoping we’ll hit the quarry.

Hogan reports that Murphy sent him an explanation of the session as follows: “It (is) really meant to covey that we are all pretty much making-it-up as we go through this period of fundamental change in the book business. There are many rather smart people issuing completely divergent opinions about The Future of Publishing.

“This could be a wonderful new era where some people much smarter than me figure out how to effectively use the opportunities of the Internet to establish like-minded viral communities and give many more writers much greater access to their core readers than was ever afforded when a buyer in Ann Arbor or on Fifth Avenue in New York were the primary deciders of what readers were presented as New & Noteworthy. On the other hand, a new era could be even more restrictive as The Era of The Ampersand Wielding Book Barons (Barnes & Noble/Simon & Schuster) gives way to The Dot.Com Book Baron and Amazon becomes the all-powerful voice of book consumption… I use Amazon; I love their speed, ease, & efficiency. But I don’t trust them to serve my reading needs over their quarterly profits as far as I can next-day deliver them.

Hogan continues: “After three decades in the book business, Murphy says he’s never seen this level of ‘passionate debate about where we’re headed and what we’re doing wrong…But what I find most “wrong” about our current state of affairs,’ he concludes, “is that our conversations have become so dominated about the bottles and so little about the wine. I’d much rather be talking about my writers, like Tony O’Neill and Barb Johnson, who are so talented they bring tears to me eyes…on a back lit screen as well as the printed page.'”

Great stuff…I’m tempted to head out to Vancouver airport for a last-minute flight to Austin.