The Death of Traditional Publishing

“I am very happy not to be sitting as the CEO of Harper Collins,” Jane Friedman said in an interview with NPR about her new company, Open Road Integrated Media. “Because as the CEO of a legacy publishing company, you are the CEO of basically two companies: one is physical and one is digital.”

The phrase, “legacy publishing company” twisted in my brain.

Way back at the turn of century, we talked about “legacy” systems —those dinosaur systems that were the grandfather of modern technology but are no longer taught in schools or used in the business world.

Are traditional publishers — those with venerable New York offices and impossible-to-penetrate-without-an-agent walls — the new dinosaurs, teetering on the brink of extinction, slowly being outshone and outsold by their upstart digital children?

Not completely, says Friedman, who once was the CEO of HarperCollins, and now sits at the helm of a company focused on e-publishing. They’ve started off with e-versions of backlist books (I’ve just purchased the uncensored version of James Jones WWII novel, From Here to Eternity, for my Sony Reader), but is moving into what they call “e-riginals,” which are books appearing only in digital format.

I responded to Friedman’s interview with delight and trepidation. Delight, because in my business I turn manuscripts into e-books through editing and page compositing. Trepidation, because while I carry my Sony Reader with me everywhere, I still have shelves full of “dead tree” books that I love to hold, that carry a certain scent, and that I can flip through without pushing buttons or tapping screens. I find that I retain information from print books much more than I retain from e-books, so I read novels in e-format, but reference books, business books, important books, I want in hard copy.

I love technology, and at the same time, hate to see the old ways disappear.

Maybe I’m half dinosaur myself.