Last week I had the privilege to see President Bill Clinton speak at a conference I was attending in San Francisco. He is, as he has always been, a captivating speaker. His talk focused on the power of the Internet to transform lives and how our lives have changed, and will continue to change, as we move forward, and sometimes stumble forward, into a global economy driven by technology.
As I absorbed his words I thought not only of the implications in my work, but also the changes in my personal life due to technology. Just a short 7 years ago, I still had a desktop computer that would have been way too heavy to drag home every night, so when I was I done with work, I was done with work. I also only had a phone with a cord at my desk – couldn’t take that home either. My brick of a cell phone was for personal, emergency use only. Now I have a personal smart phone, a blackberry for work, an iTouch for cool apps and music, a laptop for work, a laptop for home, and a netbook for travel, not to mention I work more than ever since I’m always connected (I could write a whole other blog on that subject). I also have a Kindle, which brings me back to Bill Clinton and how I think his words relate to the ever changing publishing environment.
While in San Francisco I stopped by a Borders Bookstore that is closing soon. I was able to find some good books that would fit in my suitcase for steep discounts (always fun for a bookie), but as I was checking out, I had an interesting conversation with the clerk. Come to find out, that Borders location, perfectly located in the heart of Union Square, was once considered a flagship store when the company first expanded nationally over 20 years ago, and now it doesn’t stand a chance because of a changing marketplace and high real estate premiums.
Growing up and into my twenties, I loved going to smaller bookstores and finding that special gem of a book, but as time went on, I was more than happy to go to the one stop shopping mega-bookstores. I know, I know, blasphemy. But hey, the big stores had coffee and music too, how could I resist? As e-books began to become popular, I told myself I could not cave. I had to remain a staunch purist. I might succumb to buying most of my books in one place, but I was still physically buying books.
Times change. Again. And Again.
Just a few years ago, e-publishers were considered fringe at best. The literary elite in New York turned their noses up at the idea – as did a lot of bookaphiles. E-publishing was a marginal way in to publishing, but most everyone still wanted a book with their name on it that they could hold in their hands and put on their bookshelves. No such much anymore.
I was a late adapter to e-books, not only as a reader, but as a would-be novelist. However, after getting the Kindle for my birthday last October, even I have to admit I enjoy getting books as quickly as I can type a few keystrokes. I also enjoy seeing so many of my friends getting their stories published, earning decent money and finding their way as authors. I would also now consider e-publishing as a means to publish my own manuscripts. Part of my transition is that I grasp that the marketplace has changed, and one must change with the marketplace, or perish. As a reader, I also like the fact that I don’t have to lug five books in my suitcase whenever I travel. I can just bring a device that can hold 1000s of books.
Bill Clinton told us that he felt that the Internet is now an inalienable right of every single person in the world given the benefits it can bring to our lives. I agree. Look what it did for college kids in Cairo, look at how quickly we can help earthquake/tsunami victims in Japan, and think of how your doctor can now look at your older medical records and compare that information with your new test results with a device they holds in their hands while they are consulting with you. Brilliant.
Technology is a powerful force for good. Yes, there is some bad too, closing bookstores and limited print runs being just the tip of the iceberg, but as Bill Clinton mentioned; it is okay if we stumble a bit, as long as we stumble forward.