This article in the New York Times by Colin Robinson, the co-publisher of OR Books, got a lot of play on the books Twittersphere over the weekend. Here's a representative sampling:
On the desolate beach that is the lot of the contemporary book reader, the footprints of one companion can still be found. They belong to the writer, who needs the reader not just to pay her or his wages but also to give meaning to their words. As John Cheever put it: “I can’t write without a reader. It’s precisely like a kiss — you can’t do it alone.”
The troubling thought occurs, however, that this last remaining cohabitant may also be about to depart the island. With falling advances, writing is evermore dominated by people who don’t need it to earn a living: Tenured academics and celebrities spring to mind. For these groups, burnishing a résumé or marketing a brand is often as important as satisfying the reader.
The article seems to be based on a few cherry-picked facts and figures, and then the rest of it is just extrapolation to suit the author's gloomy mood: Books are dying because everyone's obsessed with gadgets! Author advances are down! Amazon is being Amazon! Too many amateurs are writing!
But it would be easy to write the exact opposite essay. E-book adoption rates aren't happening at astronomical levels anymore. Bookstore sales are increasing. And many would argue that the above excerpt, about writers not being able to make a living solely off of writing books, could be a good thing, too. Don't we want writers who live and have experiences that they can bring to their books? Shouldn't the number of career novelists in America be fairly small? And what good does wringing your hands in a public forum do, besides revive the fatalistic, books-are-dying stench that circulated around the publishing industry for the whole first decade of this millennium?