With the rise of visual entertainment media, it’s no surprise that Americans are reading less books, especially for leisure. About a quarter of Americans say they haven’t read any books at all in 2021, whether in print, electronic or audio form. How can leisure reading survive an era of brighter, flashier forms of entertainment? The answer may be unexpected: promote original content and increase sales, let the traditional book industry die and democratize the publishing process.
There have been attempts by the book publishing industry to stay afloat in the digital age – collaboration with book reviews on social media stands out as an innovative strategy, but the industry still lags far behind visual media. Entertainment media is constantly competing for the most eyeballs, and with the boom in social media platforms and algorithms designed for crisp, eye-catching content, it made books more invisible than ever.
A book is naturally a slower medium than visual entertainment and requires more time to browse through a single work. Although this is one of its strengths – forcing consumers to think about what they read, often to improve their concentration and the strengthening of their comprehension skills in the process – this is also its greatest weakness. In a world where attention is paramount, books are losing the battle.
So is it inevitable that books will die, unable to keep up with the times? Not if publishers can take advantage of the unique opportunities presented by new technologies to invigorate their consumer base and increase engagement and then profit from it. Yes, there are some who will never be drawn to reading, in the same way that some people will never feel the urge to watch a slasher movie – they just don’t find the medium’s inherent properties appealing. So the answer is to target those who might be tempted by the right kind of content, especially by filling existing gaps with books that break the mould. This can be solved by giving authors the leeway to take creative risks and experiment.
Publishers should support a selection of literary content that will appeal to audiences with varying tastes. This will require a radical shift in the role of industry, where publishers will develop partnerships with authors, rather than assuming direct control over publishing rights. In short, the traditional book publishing industry may need to embrace the very phenomenon that has threatened its existence for years: self-publishing.
Book publishing is still a tightly controlled industry. Today, five publishing houses – Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster – dominate the vast majority of book production and distribution in the United States. big fivethese publishers have owned more than 80 percent of the book publishing market share in the United States for years. With a merge attempt that threatens to turn the Big Five into the Big Four, these publishers wield immense controlling power, backing only those books they deem profitable and appealing to the lowest common denominator – and authors even face pressure editors to include certain plot points or tropes to attract a larger readership. While these are calculated moves meant to minimize risk, it can easily lead to a siloed content model, with unofficial but rigid content guidelines that restrict creative expression. This problem is exacerbated by the lack of diversity within publishing houses, which contributed to the overly whitewashed book industry and made it more difficult for authors of color to break through.
Self-publishing, on the other hand, offers authors greater autonomy over their work. With the digital age, authors now have the tools to publish their own projects and no longer have to depend on publishers. Self-publishing has undoubtedly transformed the book publishing landscape, allowing for author freedom and a greater selection of books for mass consumption. Also remove barriers to access AIDS women, authors of color, and others from marginalized communities, who may face more barriers to publishing through large corporations.
It is no longer assumed that publishers and agents know best what consumers want. the democratization of the music industry through the advent of platforms like SoundCloud and Spotify demonstrates the power of online virality by challenging industry norms and expectations. Musical sensations like Lil Nas X found success through digital platforms like TikTok, which boosts independently released songs. by Billie Eilish The song “Ocean Eyes” went viral on SoundCloud and was commercially re-released a year later, laying the groundwork for its boom in popularity. Digital technologies have offered ways for artists to reach global audiences without the need for an intermediary.
It’s not a perfect comparison – for one thing, it’s much easier for music to spread and go viral than books. But just as Spotify allowed for more diversity and more experimentation, self-publishing provides a more varied publishing environment and gives readers more choice, giving people a free marketplace of ideas. If major publishing houses like the Big Five use their resources to make self-published authors online more visible through advertising and marketing – as they have already begun to do – they have a real chance to breathe new life into to the book industry. In an age where film and television are saturated with sequels, remakes and adaptations, originality may be what the book industry needs to thrive.
Samantha Cynn is an opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at [email protected].
The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. The columns represent the opinions of the authors only.