The Future is Now

The first professional writing friend I ever made told me over lunch not long ago that the world of publishing was bound to change dramatically very soon. He explained to me that instead taking books off the shelf, you would merely tell the bookseller what you wished to purchase and they would print a copy for you while you waited.

My friend is a number of years older than I, and has admitted to not always keeping absolutely current with technology, and he wrote science fiction, and I had never heard of such a thing—and so I nodded politely and chalked it up so much barstool theory.

Then today I saw that Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park has purchased an Espresso Book Machine that does pretty much what my friend described. Not exactly, it seems to be mostly for out of print books and maybe self-published books—but this is only the beginning. Perhaps this will spell the eventual end of returns, a publisher’s worst enemy.

You don’t have to spend much time in the company of writers before the talk turns to the end of publishing. The failing economy, diminishing advances, editors being fired . . . on and on. Yet everyone who predicts the end of the world forgets that everything is always changing. Humans love to change things. Many of us claim we hate change, and yet we keep changing and changing. We are biologically addicted to it.

I won’t listen to talk about the end of publishing, or 2012, or newspapers or anything else. It’s nothing but hand wringing. Who really knew two years ago these machines would begin appearing in bookstores? Who knew ten years ago you would hold a computer in the palm of your hand with which you could look up the weather in Afghanistan?  Nothing ever ends, it only becomes something else, and I could no more believe in the end of the world than I could the end of creativity.

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