My teenage son loves to ask me, when he’s bored with visiting relatives or some other activity Dad enjoys, “Well, it’s time to hit the old dusty trail.”
We always laugh; it’s our little joke.
I was thinking of that phrase this week, after I read yet another article about e-publishing. Suddenly, the contrast between the old world – endless shelves of old, dank, dusty books in used bookstores (or in my office) – and the exhilarating new world of digital.
Simply put, I love my old books. If I ever move, those books will be the bulk of my efforts in transporting things. Yet I find myself also embracing the new technology. It’s simply too exciting for authors to ignore.
Most people will tell you that it isn’t possible to have it all. Usually that’s true. But in the world of books and publishing, I believe we can. Two new ventures confirm that for me.
A New York Times piece on Jane Friedman’s new venture, Open Road Integrated Media, is really exciting. Friedman, former CEO of HarperCollins, has now entered the digital publishing world “whole-hog,” as we say here in the South. Along with Jeffrey Sharp, a film producer, Friedman has ambitious plans to reissue old titles.
Boldly, Friedman has declared that e-publishing “is going to be the center of the universe.”
A bit of hyperbole, but with a ring of truth. Friedman is bold enough to tell us what everyone knows: much of the traditional publishing model is “broken.”
Friedman’s point is that when traditional houses reissue print editions of books, few know about it, save book junkies. But with Open Road, Friedman plans extensive online marketing.
Amazingly, in its first year, Open Road will market up to 1,000 titles! Negotiations are under way to reissue several of the late Michael Crichton’s titles. Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22″ is already in the works.
Social networking sites, including Twitter, will be utilized in promoting these properties, opening them up to vast new audiences. One can surmise that young people in particular will catch the wave with some old classics.
For conservatives, this is a two-edged sword. For one thing, Open Road is partnering with several publishers, including Kensington Books, which publishes a gay and lesbian line.
Nonetheless, conservative publishers would do well to catch the wave of this technology. Many are already marching in that direction, including the always innovative Michael Hyatt of Thomas Nelson.
At the same time we are on this new, unblazed trail, we can also look back at old classics that will continue to exist in print form – actual ink on actual paper, bound between two cardboard covers.
Attic Books, a new imprint from southern (and independent) publisher New Leaf Publishing Group, is dedicated to reprinting old, old books. The parent company a few years ago brought James Ussher’s classic “Annals of the World” back into print; the famous (or infamous) work, by the archbishop that liberals love to ridicule, contains ancient history that was largely lost to the modern world. Ussher referenced several histories that are now lost to us, and the original Latin document was inaccessible for modern audiences.
When a friend of the publisher dedicated seven years of his life to translating the work, an extraordinary document was ready for print. After several printings, it has surpassed the expectations of NLPG and remains a runaway bestseller.
Attic Books seemed like a natural imprint to develop, and the company now has a deluxe edition of “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” “The Complete Works of Flavius Josephus,” and “Adam’s Chart of History: A Timeline.” Many more works are planned.
“I love seeing the range of places that books can now go in an e-format – including readers and smartphones, but for me, nothing can really replace the whole experience of holding the printed book in my hand and having it sit on the shelf of my office,” says Laura Welch, marketing director for NLPG. “Many of the most beautiful and interesting vintage books are not readily available in their original form for a mass audience. We not only preserve the artistry and style of these books, we do it in a format that can be affordably retailed yet still maintain a high level of quality.”
The Attic Books line selects titles based on worldview, content and aesthetic beauty (the company works diligently to reproduce the now-lost art of beautiful binding and pays careful attention to detail inside – the results are striking; the books are reprinted looking largely as they did when first issued).
So, is there room for both in the book world? Smooth, colorless, odor-free e-publishing versus rich smells and gold-leaf, embossed covers?
I think so. Most definitely. All of publishing wins!