On Books That Try Too Hard
Publishers may be a little to focused on speed
The New Yorker's Ian Crouch is struck forcefully by how quickly royal engagement books have been appearing. The first, he marvels, was "sent to print by HarperCollins just three days after the news broke." What is driving this insanity? Crouch is particularly perplexed by the statement of HarperCollins's senior non-fiction editor when explaining the speed:
Newspapers and magazines have been doing it for centuries--but if book publishers are going to remain relevant we have to be able to respond in the same way, and give consumers what they want when they want it.
What a statement for a book-lover to unpack. Crouch explores the implications of this statement and explains why he think the editor is mistaken. Here are his key points (we highly recommend reading the full thing):
ON THE IDEA THAT BOOKS NEED TO KEEP UP WITH NEWSPAPERS TO STAY RELEVANT
Newspapers and magazines have been doing all sorts of things for centuries that books haven't, and it seems, shouldn't be expected to do: breaking news, offering quick, timely analysis, selling ad space, starting fires. Just as we'd be startled to find a dissertation on the Presidency of Herbert Hoover in the Sunday Times, so should we be wary of spending twenty or thirty bucks on a book written, in part at least, and published three days after the events it chronicles took place.
WHY BOOKS' RELEVANCE IS NOT ABOUT SPEED
In order to "remain relevant," books need to be less like the daily paper--or like texts, tweets, Facebook status updates, blogs, charticles, infographics--and more like their better selves, which is to say thoughtful, well-researched, accurate. ... All this gleeful haste from publishers robs books of their truly relevant qualities: perspective and wisdom nurtured by time. Books should be polished and durable.
WHY THIS MAY NOT EVEN MAKE SENSE FROM A BUSINESS STANDPOINT
Giving the customer what they want is a reasonable goal for any business. But what customers are we talking about here? And is this what they, or anyone, even want? Books are not simply "content delivery devices," useful only to fork information onto an ever growing pile. Perhaps this speed-first idea of publishing says less about what all books need to do, but rather, is a tacit acknowledgment of the disposable quality of this kind of quick-hit moneymaker. Regardless, we should worry about more than just the bottom line if securing future for publishing means mastering the fast and furious con job of the "media cycle."