Are You Futured Out?

March 10, 2010

A blog entry on Richard Curtis’ very good E-Reads site struck a strong chord with me today.

Curtis writes:

Until now, most folks returning from the annual (O’Reilly’s) Tools of Change conference have come away inspired and energized as the flint of old thinking met the steel of innovation. But this time publishing industry blogger Don Linn reported symptoms of future weariness. “We are in the midst of a bucketload of ‘Future of Publishing’ conferences and there is an element of conference fatigue setting in,” he writes. “There’s not much new under the sun: In the 2- 1/2 days I was there, I didn’t see or hear anything startling or revolutionary that hasn’t been discussed in other conferences or even at previous TOC’s.”

I did not attend TOC, so of course cannot offer any comments on the event, but I am beginning to suffer a serious case of future fatigue. The media continues its feeding frenzy on every trivial piece of tech news that it can uncover, largely, I believe because it has always perceived publishing in all its forms as the most important subject known to mankind. Earthquakes in Haiti and Chile. Yeah, ok, a few headlines, but what about this: “Google Reaches Books Deal With Italy.” I’ll confess: didn’t even glance at it.

The media appears to subscribe to the lyrics of a song (that I can’t seem to locate on Google). The two key lines go:

“The only thing more interesting than me…
Is me.”

My foolish dream is that the big fat tech companies, Google, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Intel et al., would jointly declare a 12 month moritorium on heavy-duty R&D and marketing expenditures and offer a portion of their billions to tech workers around the world, who would receive, for example, $40k plus cost-of-living expenses, and would commit to working in third-world countries helping to improve infrastructure, sanitation, education, health care, and a long list of other crucial problems. The money would be paid monthly to the workers; if you quit early, that’s the end of it. If you work the full year and if your supervisor rates your efforts at a minimum of 7.5/10, you receive a $8k bonus.

Oh well, enough of my fantasy. Back to reading the endless blogs, Publishers Weekly and The Economist, and thinking about how most publishing technology is only barely managing to improve this world we inhabit.

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A Snippet of Data on U.S. Bookstore Sales

November 16, 2009

From today’s Publishers Weekly: “Bookstore sales jumped 7.0% in September, to $1.58 billion, the U.S. Census Bureau reported Monday morning. The increase was most likely due to gains at college stores and the release of The Lost Symbol in the middle of the month. Despite the September increase, and an upward revision in the August numbers, bookstore sales through the first nine months of the year were still down, albeit only 0.7%. Sales for the period were $12.52 billion. For the entire retail market, sales were down 6.5% for September and 9.7% for the year to date.”

As I’ve been arguing, the book business really has very little reason to get out its handkerchief. Its sales decreases are not only FAR below those of many other creative publishing industries but also of the retail economy as a whole. Hooray for some (relatively) good news.

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