History and storytelling are important to all of us on a number of levels, whether as learning tools, sources of entertainment, or that wonderful, satisfying, nostalgic feeling we get from reawakened memories. All three came into play recently in regional book events held at North Creek, Inlet, and Long Lake. Anywhere from 20 to 60 authors gathered to discuss their work, sign and sell books, and share stories with attendees and other authors.
If you visited any of these―“Rhythm & Rhymes at the Hudson” at the Hudson River Trading Company in North Creek, the Author’s Fair at Adirondack Reader (in Inlet), or the 28th annual “Author’s Night” at Hoss’s in Long Lake―you saw a range of writers spanning the gamut of North Country literature.
Fiction, history, historical fiction, nature, memoirs, guides, and more were available, offering evidence that printed books are still filling our educational and entertainment needs. A few months prior to last Christmas, businesses like Amazon and Barnes & Noble flooded the media with pronouncements suggesting that printed books were doomed, and that e-books would soon replace them.
Whether or not that proves true remains to be seen, but at the time, it was largely a marketing ploy to sell Kindles, Nooks, and other e-readers. After all, buying a Kindle was senseless unless you purchased content, and the stores soon announced huge profits. You may have noticed that the media blitz halted almost instantly when Christmas passed, and there’s no reason to believe that the same thing won’t happen again this holiday season.
This is not a knock against e-books or online content. It’s true that millions of e-books were published, and when it was announced that e-books were outselling printed books for the first time ever, the numbers were used to convince us we were out of the loop unless we owned an e-reader.
Conveniently ignored was the fact that the overwhelming majority of e-books only sold from 1 to 5 copies. That’s right―1 to 5 copies―and at the amazing price of 99 cents for most of them. As it turns out, some authors with already large followings were able to profit financially, but their number was very limited.
Meanwhile, most authors of e-books earned royalties that fell short of the cost of a soda. “Magical” software enables the average person to publish their writing in book form almost instantly, but what the industry ignored was that most of those are no more considered “books” than a can of tuna mixed with a can of soup is considered a casserole-lover’s delight.
As a publisher, I’ve seen plenty of excellent regional work. I’ve also seen a number of submissions that were abysmal by all standards: sentences of more than 100 words, page after page with the absence of commas, and so on. If such work is published, it’s hard to consider it a book alongside the good stuff.
The financial scenario of e-books begs another question: who will bother to write books if doing all that work results in miniscule returns? Why spend months or years to write a book, only to receive a pittance? That question has been addressed by major publishers, and a general pricing strategy was agreed upon for their important (high-volume) e-books to be sold at about half the cost of a hard-cover book (hard-covers have long been the mainstay of publishers’ earnings). Many e-book versions are in the $12-$16 range.
In the meantime, other portions of the book world have yet to develop a plan, and the old business model is still in place. At the above-mentioned regional events, there was ample evidence that local books in printed form are still very popular. The stores I mentioned (and many others) are supporting the work of area writers, and the writers in turn are supporting the stores by writing more books and attending the events. While they’re both looking to earn income, their combined efforts are also helping to identify and preserve history and other stories of value.
The publishing world is going through great change, but on the regional level, the best of the traditional elements remain intact for now. The social exchange, story-swapping, and general chatter at book events presents a fun atmosphere. I’ve written a few books, but this is not intended as a self-promo. When you’re out and about, whether at bookstores, pharmacies, or convenience stores, check out the works of local and regional authors. I’m in the business of keeping up on what they produce, and you’ll find much of it very good.
Photo: Adirondack Reader, proprietor Reggie Chambers, at Inlet, New York