An industry in jeopardy – by E.E. Smith

Book publishers come in all sizes, from the giants of the industry like Macmillan, with multiple sub-companies, or “imprints,” to the small, independents with few books in print and, often enough, fewer employees. It is the small, independent publishers that deserve our praise as well as our concern, for in today’s world, they are the ones most in jeopardy. To quote Lynn Michell, owner and publisher at Linen Press in Edinburgh, Scotland: “The ebook industry is a huge explosion in the midst of those of us who publish real, beautiful books.” Lynn says that she intends to bide her time before deciding whether or not to join the ebook concept. “I may define Linen Press partly by not going down the ebook route.”

We wish her luck, for she is a lady passionately devoted to her work, which is publishing books by, for and about women — a niche she feels called upon to fill because they are all too often passed over by the larger publishers. Her training in psychology seems to influence how she chooses the few books a year that she publishes. But it is also clear that her choices come from the heart as well as the mind. More about her and Linen Press.

It isn’t just publishers who are on the brink of disaster. It follows that we, the writers, are in jeopardy as well. British author Henry Porter recently wrote an article in the Observer (“As I Start To Write My Latest Book, I Fear For The Future Of Publishing”) in which he expresses his belief that retailing pressure and the emergence of the ebook are threatening the future of authors and their work: “To begin to write a book these days seems more than the average folly.”

It also seems that I could not have picked a worse time to begin a new career as a novelist! And I have to say that there is a certain feeling of deja vu about it, too. Back In the 1970s I was just starting a career in aircraft interiors when the airlines were deregulated, forcing many of the smaller airlines (the majority of my clients) into bankruptcy. Next, I trained as a paralegal, only to witness the collapse of several law firms (including mine) in the economic downturn of the 1980s.

Always a little out of step with the times, that’s me!

If you think that small, independent publishers are at risk, look what’s happening to small, independent bookstores. They can’t even compete with the major chains, much less Walmart and In my city of San Francisco alone, where venerated old bookstores (think Argosy Bookshop in the movie “Vertigo”) have been a beacon for book lovers ever since I can remember, the attrition rate is alarming.

It’s a pretty safe bet that the giants of the publishing industry and the mega-booksellers will survive, being better able to absorb financial blows in hard times and adapt to the demands of the marketplace than are their smaller counterparts. But doesn’t every community need one or two cozy little bookstores where you can get coffee and a croissant while thumbing a “real, beautiful book?”

Speaking as one who is always a little out of step with the times, I confess that I have no use for ebooks. I like to sit in a comfortable chair, of an evening, holding a book on my lap with one hand and turning the pages with the other — or, on a sunny day, flop down on the grass and begin reading, like the girl in Winslow Homer’s famous painting “The New Novel.” The way things are going, such simple pleasures may someday be a thing of the past.


Read the original article by E E Smith at