To be perfectly honest, I try not to think about this topic at all. Basically because it scares the crap out of me. Books are my livelihood. Thinking of my industry dying is just not something I like to consider. But I have to. We all have to be aware of the situation as it is and think about the possibilities. I know some people that believe the point we're at now is an exciting one. It's an opportunity for our generation to reinvent the book, to make the industry our own. I like the sound of that myself, but I have a hard time imagining what we can do it make it all better.
Patrick over at the Vroman's Bookstore blog has some interesting things to say regarding the subject, things I hadn't really thought about before, and he's pointed his readers toward a manifesto written by Ben Stein of if:book.com. Patrick and Ben both focus on the future of the bookstore and of publishing houses, discussing ways for publishers to make themselves more prominent through branding.
This isn't something I've really given much thought to before. Publishing houses to me serve two purposes: to create the books, both externally and internally, and to distribute the books. I don't like thinking of a house as a brand name. I feel like it would pigeonhole each company too much. Certain imprints certainly have the ability to brand themselves, if small and specialized enough. But it still doesn't feel right to me.
Specifically, I'd like to comment on Stein's suggestion that bookstores follow the style of shelving books by publisher rather than genre. For me, this just doesn't work. Maybe someday, if publishers were more consistent and if people even associated books with their publishers. But even so, frankly, I don't care who published the book I want to read. I care about the book itself--its content. Yes, it's good to trust a publisher, to know that the books they put out are worthy of your time. But books are such a personal experience and everyone feels differently about them. I'd never go around saying, "ah yes, my favorite book is anything published by St. Martin's Press." That idea is ludicrous to me. I would have a hell of a time in a bookstore that shelved by publisher. I wouldn't find anything. I want to be able to wander around, having a vague idea of what I want and find it. I would be lost--even as someone who actually knows the industry--searching for a random title in a particular publisher's section.
It's terrifying to think of all the scenarios that could happen. I hate that independent bookstores are closely weekly, that people aren't reading as much as they once did, that I likely won't ever get to open my own bookstore, my dream bookstore. I'm not sure what we can all do about it. It makes me feel ignorant to say that, but it's true. But somehow, despite not knowing how, we have to figure it out.