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Whither Indie Publishing? “I Don’t Know”

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“I think the publishing industry in general has done a poor job of teaching authors how to be proactive about their own books,” Walker publisher George Gibson (left) told the audience at a Saturday afternoon Los Angeles Times Festival of Books panel on the future of indie publishing. “It is essential that publishers figure out the Internet because publishers haven’t done that.” Akashic Books publisher Johnny Temple agreed about the need to come to terms with the technological advances: “I can’t be blind or naive to the fact that culture is constantly evolving,” he said, but he can still take steps to influence that process—instead of complaining that nobody reads anymore, he suggested, publishers can use digital media to “reach out to the communities that are being ignored.”

Susan Weinberg of PublicAffairs talked about her company’s recent success rushing an e-book by George Soros to “print,” and then offered some practical marketing advice for authors. “If you can develop a sizable e-mail list of people who have a serious affinity for what you’re saying,” she proposed, “the effect is like an appearance on NPR.” And James Atlas found himself wishing that Robert Miller, who’d been spotted around the UCLA campus, was here to join in the discussion—in the meantime, he said that when he talks to people outside of publishing, “the idea that this is an industry is just laughable.” (As in, you have to pay retailers to get your products featured in their stores, and you have to let them return the unsold products and refund their money?) Reflecting on the panel’s title (“Where do we go from here?”), “the answer I came up with… was ‘I don’t know,’” Atlas admitted. “After 12 years, I really feel like a novice still.”

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