There is much talk of bright tomorrows for publishing at New York's Digital Book World expo, but how optimistic are readers?
Many reports from the Digital Book World conference are brimming with positivity, with the independent publisher Dominique Raccah singing the praises of books created "at the end of a community-building process", the author and futurist David Houle celebrating the astonishing fact that "more books [were] published this week than … in all of 1950" and Barnes and Noble's James Hilt suggesting that the flood of data sweeping through an industry which is finally catching up with the digital age "helps us all". But gloom isn't that far behind – optimism "wanes" when executives are asked about the future for publishing and readers alike.
When I phoned Neil Gaiman last week to ask him about the stramash over Apple's new iBooks Author app , he said publishing these days was like "the Klondike. Nobody knows what's going on. All they know is that there's gold in them thar hills and they want to try to get hold of it."
Gaiman gives "traditional publishing" five or "maybe 10 years … But that isn't going to mean fewer books. There'll be a lot more books – people will just find them differently." After seeing a Kindle in 2007 and downloading 14 books between waiting in the departure lounge and the plane doors being shut he's convinced electronic books will "dominate the world", but he wouldn't begrudge Apple a slice of his income. "You don't write books to make money," he said. "You do it because this is what you love doing." The music industry shows a possible future for publishing, he continued. "There are fewer rock stars travelling the world in their private jets than there were in the old days, but there's a lot more good music."
With Amazon's hit man on their trail and the customers they're all supposed to be focusing on signing up for Amazon's latest cult in droves, hearing the future of books being compared to the present travails of the music industry can only deepen publisher gloom. But what does it mean for readers? The future is coming, whatever device you're reading it on, but does Gaiman's future of "a lot more books" that you "find differently" fill you with despair or delight?