It’s no secret that print books are giving way to e-books in sales. In fact, Amazon just announced that they’re selling more e-books than hardcovers. The transformation from ink and paper to bits and bytes has been a long time in coming. The publishing industry has danced on the pinhead of obsolescence almost since the day Alan Kay developed the Dynabook in 1968. It was a tablet PC aimed at children. Its primary function was as an e-reader, and publishers balked at the technology. They balked for the next 40 years, getting onboard only when a major online retailer proved that e-books could outsell print books. Now they’re struggling to get their piece of the e-book pie.
Brick and mortar stores took a digital thrashing. Borders declared bankruptcy. Independent bookstores across the land have been folding hand over fist. And even the once great and invincible Barnes & Noble has stumbled as of late. They developed their own e-reader, but the move didn’t eliminate their major issue of overhead, physical space. They have inventory. Real books amounts to nothing more than a sin against profits.
And then comes QVC. The mega-boobtube-retailer of all things crap has put in a billion dollar bid for Barnes & Noble. It’s a terrifying development that has me envisioning a future in publishing that features scenes like Stephen King on the QVC set hawking his next horror novel. Or worse yet, Jonathan Franzen peddling his “Oprah, Come back!” t-shirts. In a world where print books are losing ground, QVC may have the tacky cachet to move lots of books printed on dead trees. QVC would have brick & mortar footprints. They could send their viewers in droves to stores for signings and other events.
So, why isn’t that a good thing? Because I much fear the quality of the books they will give airtime to will match the quality of their current line of products. QVC doesn’t sell the best products. They sell the flashiest products. Flashy does not a good book make. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not claiming I write great literature. I’m not the type that you’ll see accepting a Pulitzer or National Book Award some day. That doesn’t meant I don’t read those books. In fact, I think those books should be what the publishing industry focuses on.
And they won’t if QVC is as successful as I think it can be. The publishing industry will cater to couch potato shoppers and not readers. The true tragedy is that writers will lose out. The written word won’t be nearly as important as the QVC HotPicks Specials of the day. It’s sad, but the thing that could save the print sector is poorly written books that look good on camera.