Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Defending the Porous Wall

With the previously hard lines between the press and their readership growing ever more difficult to detect, it’s not surprising to see book publishers trying to wiggle into the place between editorial and advertising where air used to flow.

Yesterday, I found myself more concerned than pleased to get word of two polished “independent” book-related publications launched by large publishing houses. PW called Penguin’s Book Country an online community “focused on supporting writers of genre fiction -- from romance, fantasy, science fiction and thrillers to a range of contemporary hybrid genres like paranormal romance, urban fantasy and Steampunk. The site is free to use and anyone can get an account and begin uploading writing.”

Book Country was developed by Penguin’s director of business development, Molly Barton, who told PW the site will be “publisher agnostic.”

Book Country is egalitarian and merit-based,” Barton said, “while fostering an atmosphere of encouragement and creativity.”

Book Country is a gorgeous site that’s obviously had a lot of thought and money poured into it. And we’re to believe Penguin is doing this to help the book community? I can’t be the only one who has a difficult time with that idea.

Same street, different bus: On the same day Book Country got its first push, Macmillan launched its “publisher-neutral crime and mystery community website,” Criminal Element. In a press release, Macmillan touted Criminal Element as having a “focus on sharing and enriching the experience of crime story fandom.” They explain “publisher neutral,” as “meaning that it will include author participation from all publishers and other content creators, and is not exclusive to Macmillan authors.”

Though Criminal Element is very different from Penguin’s offering, it is also a gorgeous site that’s clearly had a lot of thought and money lavished on it. And I get it: I really do. With review windows closing all over the place and the industry in fear of missteps, since the Kindle and the recession both came blasting down the pike on pretty much the same day, the publishing industry has been upside-down, with Chicken Littles trying to catch pieces of falling sky all over the damn place. But there is a reason that ethical journalists have spent the last bit of forever defending the sometimes porous wall between business and journalism. And let’s be realistic: Are we to believe that either Macmillan or Penguin are suddenly deeply interested in “building community”? Or are they interested -- as they should be, since it’s their job -- in selling their books?

And, yes, yes: I understand. The world? It’s changing. Smaller review windows. Topsy-turvy sales figures. Who knows which way is up anymore? And who knows how long that porous wall will stand without crumbling? But keep this in mind: when community builders have sales agendas, they create villages in their own image. ◊

Linda L. Richards is editor of January Magazine and the author of several books.



Blogger ~ Diane said...

Wow; thanks for this insight. There are so many new "animals" in the publishing kingdom that it's hard to recognize them all...

Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 7:38:00 AM PDT  

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