Publishing: a great place to be

Elizabeth SmithElizabeth Smith, Fall 2012 Marketing and Publicity Intern, is now Managing Editorial Assistant at Chronicle Books.

Essential ArtWhile interviewing for various book-related positions (the Heyday internship among them), one question came up over and over again: How do you feel about entering an industry that’s in such a state of change? Coming from a journalism background, I felt great. Uncertainty and hand-wringing about the future of the industry is nothing new to me, and at least people in publishing were using “change” to mean change (and not as a euphemism for “death”). After several months exploring publishing as an intern at Heyday, I still feel the same way. Things are up in the air, no doubt, but all in all book publishing has a lot of things going for it.

People have an incredible fondness and even love for books, and are willing to fight for them. When it comes to newspapers and magazines, in many cases the public is all too happy to dance on their graves—“the media” is blamed for everything from scaremongering to causing low self-esteem and dumbing down our youth. Books, on the other hand, command a certain amount of respect even among non-readers, and for those who do read, they’re treasured objects and symbols of intellect and knowledge. I don’t think this is always necessarily fair or logical—is it better to read the latest Shopaholic installment than the Sunday New York Times?—but it is what it is, and it’s certainly a blessing to the publishing industry at a time when people are abandoning other forms of traditional media in droves.

All of Us Or NoneBook lovers have a strong sense of nostalgia for the physical components of a book—its cover and pages, the design and typeface, the smell of ink and paper—even as they embrace e-reader technology. I have many reader friends who can’t stand the idea of throwing a book–any book—away, and thus have dragged boxes of battered paperbacks and dog-eared former bestsellers through several moves.  To these people, a book is much more than the sum of its parts. (And speaking of my reader friends, do you think that Facebook and Twitter have affected my generation’s attention span? Think again—more than one news outlet has reported that we disaffected millennials are reading more books than baby boomers, and in print, no less.)

As ebooks become more and more popular, there are those who believe the production of print books will become more oriented toward the book as a physical object, with an emphasis on good design and quality materials (which can’t be replicated with an e-reader). Cheap paperback mysteries and romances may well be completely replaced by ebooks in the near future, and that’s fine by me. But I also think there’s an enduring market for well-made, well-designed volumes on subjects like art and nature—and luckily, that’s one of the things Heyday does best. During my time here I’ve been lucky to work with beautiful books like the ones highlighted on this page, and to meet some of Heyday’s fans and supporters at our events and see with my own eyes how devoted they are to our books and our organization.

A State of ChangeSo as I head out into the world of publishing, I’m feeling confident about the future of books—both print and digital—and of the industry that produces them. Unlike many other industries, we in publishing are lucky to have a devoted fan club for our product, one that both loves and respects books and regards them as essential to the future of our society. We are in a state of change, and judging from my interview questions, lots of us are nervous about that. But we don’t have to be. As far as I can tell, publishing is a great place to be right now, and I don’t see that changing.