Eric Oberauf, captain of the publishing house Two Dollar Radio, has a great article in the new Brooklyn Rail arguing that we should be sober but optimistic about the printed book object and its success as a method of literary distribution. In “The Revenge of Print,” Oberauf explains the relevance of independent presses very well, summarizes the identity crisis that passes for a business model at most big and butterchurning book houses, and argues with a thoughtful and historically aware perspective that adapting a “realistic scale” isn’t downsizing expectations but getting back to mattering. What his argument reminds us is that people pay for books not because they’re addicted to mulch, but to read words and like words and carry words around so they can read them some more, which makes the whole thing more communication than commodity. Maybe you’re going to make more friends than money, it’s true. So if corporate book publishers want to continue tricking any cash into falling toward them, they might want to remember that books are closer to party invitations than to coat hangers.
Here’s a pull quote:
The goal for book publishers, most simply put, should not be to undertake a virtual arms race of developing technology with both the Internet and media, or to try to compete on a bloated scale with music and film, or even to translate a work to conform to an undetermined potential future model. The mission for book publishers and print media at large should be to create a product that is irreplaceable and indispensable.