Why paper books don’t matter

There is no question that the publishing industry is under assault.   They are outgunned and outnumbered, and their foe has far better tech.   They are trying to fight back by joining forces.   This may help slow their demise, but they won’t survive.

A little backstory.   In the 90’s independent bookstores had a new and seemingly unstoppable enemy.   Borders, Barnes & Noble, Waldenbooks, and others were building their empires, and it came at the expense of the little bookstore down the street.  (Kind of like Starbucks, right?  Actually, not so much.)    At any rate, here came these big bad corporate machines, and they were out to destroy our communities in the name of convenience and low prices.   (Sound familiar?)

Fast forward to today.   The number of independent bookstores is in decline.   Oh, and so are the giants.   Thanks to this little upstart called Amazon.com.

But wait.  This is all happening because our friends over at Amazon are out to take over the world, right?  (Cue dark, foreboding music or possibly a conspiracy flick starring one of the Toms.)   Actually, I think while that’s a convenient answer (and on its face, true), it’s ultimately wrong, and long term, it probably won’t be Amazon.com that “runs” the book industry.

What’s happening is actually pretty awesome, and it doesn’t have to do with corporate machines.   What’s happening is that for the first time in the history of publishing all that matters is the story.   Publishers don’t matter, bookstores don’t matter, even the book itself–that is, the literal paper version, not the concept–doesn’t matter.  These were all just vessels for delivering a good story, and flawed ones at that.   They were just getting in the way, and by getting in the way probably ignored a good story more often than not.  Now, anyone with a good story and a computer can share their story with the world.   If the world likes their story, then people will share it.   And that is what determines a good story — not what some publisher or bookstore thinks can sell.   (Yeah, ok, one of those corporate machines facilitated this new story utopia, but hey … someone had to.)

P.S. After I wrote this post, I came across this quote from a conversation between Barry Eisler and Guy Kawasaki over at Joe Konrath’s blog:

The democratization of information is not something to get in the way of.

That about sums it up, I think.

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