Friday, November 20, 2009

The Twilight of the Book Industry? Maybe Not.

Right in the middle of the excitement about the opening of the latest movie based on Stephanie Meyer’s phenomenally selling Twilight series, it’s interesting to think about what all of this hoopla says about books and where we are with them now.

When the film, The Twilight Saga: New Moon, opens later today, it is expected to break ticket records. The first film, Twilight, grossed more than $190 million in North American revenues after it opened last year.

While much is said about just why Meyer’s series is so beloved, what interests me today is what this rabid outpouring is saying about the book industry.

Let’s face it: one way or another, book publishing has had a rough year. Much of it self-inflicted. Between shaky international financial news and the uncertainty many parts of the industry are forecasting through the final arrival of the electronic book, the industry has been stumbling. And through the stumbles we hear the chanting of cynical voices about the death of the book. It has always been thus, but now it’s more.

And then there is Twilight. And then there is The Lost Symbol. And then there is just about anything J.K. Rowling would care to put her name on. Others, as well. Books that create excitement and cause line-ups and watercooler chatter. And no: bestsellers do not an industry make, but they sure don’t hurt anything. For one thing, a book that is discussed, is talked about, is pressed on even friends who usually do not read gets a culture talking about books. More importantly, it spreads the very real joy of reading around. It gets people reading who might not otherwise have had a chance to be properly exposed to the full body experience of being immersed in a good story and the emotional virtual reality that reading offers.

The publishing industry, like so many others, is going through changes. Sure, things in the future are going to be different. But millions of girls and young women excitedly sharing a book that they feel simply must be read indicates a certain vibrance for that future. And not all change is bad.

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