A Dismal Year For Books?

Being in the book business hasn’t been an easy game this year. Store shutterings, profit nose-dives, the folding of book review sections, and even literacy itself is on the decline. Harry Potter couldn’t save them this year either.

"It’s one of those years — they come along every once in a while — where everyone worries and pulls their hair," said Marie Arana, editor of the Washington Post Book World, to Scott Timberg of the Los Angeles Times.

Is any of the unease justified? Some of it clearly is, but it depends on whom you ask.

The uncertainty around technological change is responsible for both hopes and fears within the industry, said Jonathan Galassi, editor in chief of Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

"The delivery of the content of a book in different forms and formats is making people nervous," he said, not quite uttering the name "Kindle." "So we’re trying to publish in a lot of different formats because we don’t know where the readers are going to be. A lot of us in the publishing industry started out when we still used carbon paper and manual typewriters."

With book sections diminishing at publications all over the country, John Freeman, president of the National Book Critics Circle, said his group is asking: How do we continue having literary discussions at a high level, accessible to a lot of people, as newspapers change and the way that people get their news changes?

To Freeman, part of the problem is the way bookselling is becoming a winner-take-all game, with the lion’s share of promotion going to a few bestselling authors, leaving the rest to fend for themselves in an ever-more-crowded publishing environment. (Roughly 200,000 titles were published this year.)

"It’s a constant high-stakes game for the front-list," he said. "That means anxiety levels will always be very high."

A Dismal Year For Books?