So I've been in this publishing program for three weeks and change, and we're finally done with the magazine section (yay!) and on to books. Report: Print is not dead. Or, that's what practically every speaker said, apparently trying to answer some unasked question. It's like my dog is sitting there on the bed next to me and someone comes up and says, "Your dog isn't dead."
"Uhm, thanks, I know that from the fact that he's breathing?"
Stan Lee said something in an interview for the history channel during their history of comics segment about how reading something on a screen will never be as pleasant as holding it your hands, which is why comics will always exist. I don't doubt he's right; the manner in which they're delivered will be different.
I grew up with the internet. I was on it when I was thirteen, stupidly giving my name and address out to all takers who were interested in the same cartoon shows as me on Prodigy's bulletin boards until a nice man from the FBI called my mom and said maybe I shouldn't be doing that (true story). However, despite the many, many hours I spend reading things online - even novel-length fanfic that is sometimes better than novels I've recently read - it hasn't stopped me from buying books and subscribing to magazines. I read 2-4 books a week and subscribe to about 6 magazines, 3 of them weeklies (I'm a fast reader). I suppose I could be downloading illegal .pdfs and printing them out, but the cost of paper and ink is high and the product unwieldly in comparison to a bound book. However, I don't imagine that it's going to be that way, which is why the industry's response has been stunningly pathetic.
Print magazines seemed to have discovered the internet about yesterday. Several editor-in-chiefs came to speak to us and showed us their websites, which were relatively new (1-2 years) and largely just the content of their magazine with some video clips, and man were they nervous about the fact that all of these other magazines seemed to be doing a better job than them. And yes, a successful magazine website has a major effect on the magazine's health, it turns out. How are these people genuinely surprised by that?
More interesting to me, aside from the hilarity value, is the alarming change Simon & Schuster made to its boilerplate book contracts. As this was back in May, it's been much-talked about elsewhere, so I won't go into it in technical detail, but apparently it involves them retaining at least digital rights to your book forever. People have theorized as to why they did this, but as a technocrat I find the explanation pretty basic. Right now we have the technology to print on demand - meaning someone can take a .pdf of a book, put it into a computer, and a big printer will pop out a book a few hours later or whatever. It's costly and large - you know, like computers used to be. It's not impossible to imagine that we're only 10 or 20 years away from small, retail-priced printers that you can put on your shelf next to your scanner and your external hard drive. It'll come with glue cartridges and ink cartridges and you'll have to buy cover and inside-weight paper. You'll hit "print" on your file and about an hour later, an honest-to-goodness bound book will pop out. Books will live on, but the format in which they're delivered will be entirely different, and probably just as pirated as music is today. Publishers will deal.
If I was a betting woman, I'd be willing to put money on the idea that Simon & Schuster was thinking along similar lines, which means that they need those digital rights to your book, because in the future, all they may have to sell is digital files. They just want to get it in the boilerplate now, so it becomes standard and non-negotiable while it's still unprofitable, so when it is profitable, no one thinks twice. It's about the only clever response I've seen non-digital media form to the threat of the internet. That said, it's also pretty evil, so someone tell me when they reverse that, because I'm not signing any contracts with them until they do.