image "…if e-books become the norm, the publishing industry as we know it may wither away. Books may end up serving mainly as promotional material for authors’ other activities, such as live readings with paid admission. Well, if it was good enough for Charles Dickens, I guess it’s good enough for me." – Economist Paul Krugman in the New York Times.

The TeleRead take: Here’s a modest proposal. Ban all tenured academics from participating in discussions about business models for publishers and writers. Yes, I know many members of the TeleRead community will like Krugman’s vision. Fire away.

Mix of models, please

Of course, I fervently want the performance model to be available as an option, but must it be the only one or the "main" one? I sentence Krugman to compulsory memorization of New Grub Street, especially the passages on Edwin Reardon‘s fate. The traditional publishing industry is cruel enough toward writers of books and other "content"; please don’t make it worse.

image Perhaps Krugman needs to check out Library books you can KEEP forever—and other ideas to help public libraries survive the digital era. In an era when so many people online want "free," the library model is one way to help reconcile that preference with the need for writers and editors to eat.

Krugman vs. Bleak House?

But it isn’t just those groups I have in mind. Even with advances and royalties, books don’t pay enough, and quality often suffers because everyone—writers, editors and publishers—is tempted to take shortcuts. Furthermore, as I recall, Charles Dickens was more than a little grumpy when American publishers refused to compensate him. If nothing else, what if he hadn’t been a good speaker? Would we have still gotten Bleak House?

Related: The Economist on the Kindle and the new economics of the book industry.


  1. I agree. Spare me the Grateful Dead with their T-shirts. And spare me, too, college professors who have to pay publishers rather than getting paid by publishers. I’ve got no problem with these models–heck, I sell t-shirts myself (although I don’t mark them up–I’d just be happy if some of my authors would wear them and promote the business), but I really don’t want to base my business on it.

    As far as authors making their money reading snippets in coffee shops, great–knock yourself out, although I don’t see any money for publishers in this model. I wonder, though, what Krugman would say if someone told him he’d have to give his college lectures for free and make his money giving Economics slams at the student union and selling MV=PT-shirts (an economics joke).

    Rob Preece

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