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Obituary

Christian Q. Publisher

May 1455 – August 2014 A. D.

Christian Q. Publisher was born in 1455 in Hof Humbrecht with the printing of the Gutenberg Bible. Publisher was found dead at the age of 559 on August 16, 2014 at his residence in Chicago.

Publisher, or “The Press” as his old friends affectionately called him, was found in his study slumped over a heavily marked-up stack of manuscript proposal submissions from Christian hipster bloggers. The apparent cause of death is disputed by authorities, likewise close friends and relatives. Some claim it was greed, others sloth, others still say it was just time for the old boy to go. “Five and a half centuries is a long time, and it was a good run” one former publishing vice-president, turned freelance editor, turned industry blogger tweeted out. Some dispute whether Publisher is even dead, claiming that he is simply napping before making a big comeback. Author Esther DeNorqist was interviewed via Skype through her Google Glasses and stated, “I thought he passed a long time ago? Who knew the old guy was still alive and kicking? I mean, at least until yesterday, apparently.” DeNorquist is the author of an award-winning series of Amish vampire romance novels published via eBook, and has been touted as a prime example of the market moving away from brick-and-mortar publishing.

Several well-known Christian Authors and industry giants have gone public with their grief in the wake of this tragic loss. Francine Rivers said, “I’ve so enjoyed curling up by the fire with you all these years, readers!” Rick Warren sent out an Instagram picture of a few of his dusty old commentaries he was posting on eBay, adding “I’ll sure miss these guys, they just look so cool. But time to move on!” Beth Moore’s publicist commented on behalf of the star Bible Study teacher from her official twitter account, tweeting, “Mrs. Moore is deeply saddened by the loss and asks her followers to go to BethMoore.com to read her reflections and see her new fall study releases.”

Services to mourn the passing of Christian Publisher are expected to be ongoing for the next several years, with eulogies and memorials scheduled in major periodicals that are now mostly read digitally or in waiting rooms for their print versions. The family asks that donations be given in lieu of flowers to the Christian Q. Publisher Library and Archive of Christian Bestsellers in New York, New York.

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After rumors of his demise circulated, Mark Twain contacted a reporter, saying: “the report of my death was an exaggeration.”

Are the rumors of the death of Christian Publishing likewise an exaggeration? Loved author Phil Yancey recently wrote a piece for Books and Culture called “Farewell to the Golden Age” that is not quite an obituary like my spoof above, but has some similarities for the world of Publishing, particularly Christian Publishing. He laments the slow slide from the “golden age” and the quickening pace of change which precludes the possibility of most young writers breaking into the industry, and in which physical books are something less and less treasured.

In response, I’ll share some of my thinking of late on the world of publishing, particularly small Christian publishers. These are only a few of the ideas rolling around in my noggin as I interact with this field quite a bit in my free time as a work-for-hire writer, researcher, and author of several books.

1) THINGS HAVE INDEED CHANGED. I think the bare facts mentioned in Yancey’s article and others so many have outlined are true. Things have changed, radically, and the path to success for a publisher, not to mention an emerging writer/author are deeply changed. Every time I speak to someone in the publishing business they seem to bring up how much their world has changed. And there are a lot of really talented people who have lost their jobs who used to work somewhere in the old book pipeline. This is true in many other industries as well, but it’s pretty stark in this one.

[quote_right]There are a lot of really talented people who have lost their jobs [/quote_right]2) PLATFORM-BUILDING IS MORE ACCESSIBLE. On the other hand, with this new day, for a writer at least, the access to an audience is far more flattened. Any 8-year-old that can type a sentence can start tweeting in 2 minutes. Any teen with a penchant for brooding reflections on love can start a blog and build a following among friends. The amplification of big-business publishing is harder to get plugged into, but today the barriers to publishing otherwise are actually quite minimal, if you have a broader definition of the term “publishing.”

3) READING IS NOW MULTI-FACETED. Many of us grew up thinking of “reading” as synonymous with holding a bound volume. That has changed. Who is to say that what you are reading right now is not as “good for you” as reading USA Today? Who can judge that a tweet from Len Sweet was not as well-crafted as the lines in a book of witticisms you bought at Baker’s Books? Can’t a free e-book make a difference in your life today on vacation or on the subway as much or more than the unread books gathering dust on your shelves back home or at the office? Couldn’t someone start writing short serial novel chapters online and capture your imagination like a suspenseful TV series? Why not catalog a list of your tweets  into one link list and influence the world, writer? Yes, most of the stuff out there on social media is junk… but honestly I feel the same way in a Barnes and Noble. Whatever the case–we are reading, perhaps more than ever these days. You are reading now, even if by pixels, clicks, and screen rather than ink, page, and binding.

4) FAMOUS PEOPLE PLAY BY DIFFERENT RULES. I have noticed that all the “obituaries” for Christian publishing and other publishing have almost zero effect on famous people, or for those with a well-established audience of hardback readers, like Yancey. The reality is that fame is bankable today. [quote_left]Publishing is basically a loan process where the publisher takes all the financial investment risk…[/quote_left]So fame is just a better bet. It is better business to go with someone hashtaggable. If you’re not a hashtaggable writer yet, better to “get by” publishing to your platform in more out-of-the-box ways. Of course this is somewhat cyclical and might hasten the demise of Christian Publishers—as they have to compete for those famous people, and both Wal-Mart and Amazon will sell their stuff for steep discounts. Publishers seem to have a “go big or go home” strategy these days. It will be interesting if they lose that bet and have to go home because of it.

5) QUALITY WILL STILL PREVAIL. I do believe that people sill crave good writing, and well crafted “things they can hold in their hands,” not just digital entertainment. A product or device’s ubiquity does not quell the desire for higher quality, or the willingness to pay a premium for it. The rise of coffee shops in the states in the last 20 years has only increased our desire for more and more alchemical ways to pamper our caffeinated pallets. We all have cell phones, it seems, but are willing to go to great lengths, and stand in long lines, to get better ones every 18 months or so. This is why I jumped on the Bibliotheca Bandwagon a while back. Quality matters… and is attractive; perhaps this is especially true for the young who are more digitally native, but curiously tactile with a fetishistic treatement of their Moleskine noteboooks and textured appurtenances. I suspect, as I cited in my article on the Bibliotheca subject, that there is an insurgent return to quality about to rise up in a sea of shoddy craftsmanship and throwaway self-help bookleteers.

[quote_right]“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” – Ray Bradbury[/quote_right]6) THE FIELD IS STILL RIPE FOR DISRUPTION. The situation as it is now is most critical for publishers themselves today than writers and authors. I always try to remind an emerging author of this—because sometimes they think the publishers are the bad guy shutting them out, when in fact the publishers themselves feel very shut out of the world in trying to sell those books. I think the whole publishing industry is still very ripe for disruption. Some nimble new thinkers in publishing, or perhaps skillful entrepreneurial types who band together with innovation at their side, could continue to upend things–or when you least suspected it, challenge even almighty Amazon’s model going forward. The next frontier for publishers lies not in a reductionistic strategy of faster and cheaper eBook downloads, but in the binary columns of quick digital purchase and consumption on the one hand, and quality creativity and craftsmanship on the other. To thrive, a publisher will likely need to continue figuring out both at the same time. They might even need to do it in order to merely survive.

We shall see.
In the meantime: keep flipping pages, whether they be real or simulated animations of pages—whatever. Just keep reading!

“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” – Ray Bradbury

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