Cloudy with a chance of spaceships

Another chilly, rainy day–in New York City, at least.   This evening, the 51st floor view reveals Manhattan towers disappearing into lowering clouds.  Three neighboring skyscrapers equipped with illuminated spikes glow eerily in the mist.  I’m fascinated, and not just because the precipitation is more frequent and the scenery more vertical than in Round Rock.  This place looks like a sci-fi book cover.

That visual theme parallels the rest of my day– attending Book Expo America.  Every session I chose considered two issues:  the future, and emerging trends related to digitization.

The term “speculative fiction”, often preferred by SF readers, is even more apt for discussions like the panel moderated by NPR’s Steve Inskeep.  He and four publishing experts contemplated such matters as crowdsourcing, “native apps”, and the diminishing role of the editor.    

That thoughtful interchange generated as many questions as answers:  What makes a book a book–ISBN, identifiable author, or simply its lack of interactive, multimedia, immersive experience?  When does an interactive version–an app–reach beyond that identity and become something else?  And, in a digital environment where publishers are increasingly numerous, how do they achieve “discoverability”?

Earlier in the day, a Book Industry Study Group survey revealed that the typical “power e-book buyer” is female and around 44 years old, has a household income of $77,000, and purchases primarily fiction (58%), particularly in the Romance genre.   You won’t be surprised to learn that the BISG study sought to answer questions, e.g., How will trends in ebook use/purchase affect stakeholders in the book industry?

The last event I selected today–also the most popular–presented a lineup of six editors from major publishing houses, each passionately heralding the impending availability of a new fall fiction title.  All of the novels sound wonderful:  Diana Abu-Jaber’s Birds of Paradise, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding, Naomi Benaron’s Running the Rift, Justin Torres’ We the Animals, and Sere Prince Halverson’s The Underside of Joy.

We can all enjoy speculating about these books’ success. 

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