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How do we go forward?

A few weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal ran an article on the dangers of clinging to past ways of doing business.  Contrary to what aging boomers like me believe, older experienced managers don’t always offer the best ways of solving problems, because we’re wedded to what worked for us thirty years ago, when we were starting out.

It’s the book business that interests me most, and I realize that I’ve been only looking backward: I want small neighborhood bookstores, and book reviews and independent publishers so that a myriad voices can be found.  Instead, we have megastores, online marketing, fewer juried review outlets, and a handful of conglomerates publishing blockbusters.

We’re not likely to return to that, but we need some of the key elements of the old model if we are going to preserve multiple voices, and if people are going to make a living writing, publishing and selling.  We need a way to browse, as you can at a bookstore, and we need a way to get good reviews of many books.  We also need a way for new writers to find an audience, which used to happen when the independent bookstores hand sold books like mine (I didn’t become a national bestseller until my sixth book, and nor did Sue Grafton.  Publishers today won’t wait on slow bloomers like us–we get two books to break through, and then it’s on to the new new thing.)

When I look at the blogosphere, I find it hard to cull out the voices I want to listen to.  It’s true there are some great book blogs out there, like BookSlut, but the big questions for all Internet media are: how can you make it pay, and how can you make it visible?

Similarly, if we move more and more to an e-book universe, how do you browse for books?  The Amazon model, where they suggest “you might like Bloodsucking vampires of Outer Space” based on a previous purchase simply cuts out all other choices.  The Amazon model also demands that you pony up a big cash outlay to get your book featured on their home page, just as Barnes & Noble demands a big cash outlay to have a title put in the front of the store.

So, my creative friends and readers, what are some ways to think differently about how to get books and readers together in the age of the Net?

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