Monday, April 21, 2014

Print is here to stay.

With the introduction of the e-book and tablet readers, many people are predicting the demise of printed media in the near future. However, I do not see such a Bradburian doomsday for the printed word. In fact, when looking at the current climate, there are many reasons for pessimists to reassess their half-empty glasses.

To see a brighter future, it is first necessary to look to the past. In his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, Neil Postman notes that the United States is unique in that it was founded in the age of the printed word. In fact, it was one of the most literate countries in the world. This “Typographic America,” as Postman calls it, was integral to a democratic system because it was the only means of communication across a vast landscape. Just think: how would a democracy work in a country where citizens could not read the laws or understand their very freedom? The very size of the country would also make any sort of verbal discourse across states next to impossible! This foundation on the printed word still remains today. The problem with foundations, however, is they are hidden under everything else.

Today, media is overwhelmingly dominated by screens. But if one would behind those screens, he would see a thriving typographic landscape. Let’s start with the e-book, the printed word’s latest arch nemesis. Since 2008, e-book sales have grown 4456%, an alarming number to be sure; at least until one considers the fact that they still only make up 20% of all sales. Last year (2013), e-book sales grew by 43%, which is another healthy number except that it is the first time in three years that they have not grown by triple digits. One last statistic: 457 million e-books were sold last year compared to 557 million print books, but that is just hardcover! Finally, polls have shown that millennials—those people that are supposed to be so plugged into their screens—still overwhelmingly prefer physical print.

That’s not all the good news lurking behind the screen, however. According to the Internet Movie Database (IMDB), more than two hundred movies coming out will be based on books this year alone. While those pessimists might point to this as a sign of the cannibalization of print as a medium, I find it quite comforting. This is mostly because these big movies actually drive book sales, and not just for the juggernauts like the Rowlings and Sparkses of the world; a new trend has emerged in the past couple years where studios are optioning promising novels before they are even published. So in a way, films and television function as multi-million dollar book trailers.

Speaking of television, it too can drive book sales; shows like True Detective and Game of Thrones have proven this. True Detective is an especially interesting case because it shows how different media can feed on each other and boost sales and ratings. The show centers on two detectives trying to solve a cult murder, with the twist that the mythos of this cult is based on the book The King in Yellow, written by Robert W. Chambers and published in 1895. But the show never mentions this. Instead, it took io9, an online blog, to point out the fact. The end result was a significant spike in sales of the book through Amazon.

The future of print can rely on screens, and vice versa. So, while printed books will never be as powerful or popular as they once were, there is reason to believe that the foundation is here to stay. Now take another look at your glass.

by Ian Burnham, intern

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Book Trailers? Huh?

We’ve all seen the latest trailer for Captain American or Noah; movie trailers are a staple in our society today because film companies rely heavily on this type of advertising. The film moguls want to give the audience just enough of a taste to convince viewers that their movie is worth the trip to the theaters, the $10 movie ticket, and $15 food at the concession stands. For filmmakers making a trailer is fairly easy to do. They just edit together some of the footage that already exists.

For books, the challenge is ever more apparent.

Book trailers are rarely seen on television. If anyone has even seen a book trailer, it was probably for the latest James Patterson book. And yet, publishing companies like Scholastic make book trailers all the time.

For TCU Press marketing is crucial to get the word out about the unique books being printed. These books were published for a reason, and people deserve to know about them. Because books are a totally different medium that depends on the imagination of the reader, book trailer makers are presented with an array of different challenges.

Unlike movies, books don’t come with moving images. Many don’t come with any images, besides perhaps the cover art. Trying to assign a particular photo or drawing of a character can be a sensitive subject for readers, just as it is for readers of books with film adaptations. Additionally, book trailer makers must decide whether they want to stick with still images, moving images, or no images. Each present their own pros (like cost efficiency) and cons (like limited audience engagement), but many of these decisions depend on the budget and skillset at hand.

A running convention of book trailers is text (text with excerpts from the book or text from positive books reviews for instance); voice-over narration, another convention, is used much the same way with excerpts and reviews. A third convention that is quite useful—and I would say necessary—is music. Music can set the mood of the trailer and subsequently convey the tone of the book in a matter of seconds.

Book trailers serve a distinct purpose in the greater marketing scheme of book publishing. For many, book trailers are the 15 or 30 seconds needed to pique readers' interest.

by Rebecca Semik, intern

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Written Art

According to Webster’s Dictionary, a book is “a set of printed sheets of paper that are held together inside a cover.” It’s a simple definition for such an extraordinary object. Some people will see a book and cringe, unable to see more than just a stack of papers bound together. What is the point of a book? Why, as a Writing major, am I planning on dedicating my life to books, especially since they are “going out of style” and won’t be as important as technology advances? Those are questions I am asked almost weekly. Generally they are accompanied by a look of incredulity or a roll of the eyes. A book is so much more than papers tied together. A book is an eye-opening adventure; a book is source of inspiration; a book is a type of legacy; a book is a work of art.

Some books are obviously adventures, others not so much. For my internship at TCU Press, I am reading the architect Frank D. Welch’s memoir, a book I was hesitant about. I read fiction. I live for fiction. What was I going to do with an entire book about architecture? But did I read the memoir, and I was amazed by how intriguing it was. It took me on an adventure and opened my eyes to the thoughts of an architect. I learned new things (like, for instance, what a gabled roof is) and now find myself looking at buildings and wondering about the life of the person who created them. I was bemused about my reaction to the memoir and found myself wishing that it was longer so that I could learn more. It was an adventure because this was something completely new to me, and I was able to learn something from it, and that’s what adventures are about: learning things.

Books are unique concepts. They are the tiny thoughts of someone put together to create larger thoughts, to tell a story and to teach. They have a strange ability to inspire people to do things.

Because of the impact books have made on my life, when someone tells me that books aren’t going to be around much longer, I generally stifle a laugh. I understand that there are now eBooks and that sort of thing, but honestly they don’t hold a candle to the actual, physical copy of a book. Although some books do get lost from the hands of time, many do not. We still have writings like The Odyssey and The Iliad. Decades, if not centuries, from now, people will still know the names Harry Potter and Frodo Baggins.

Each book is a piece of art. It might not be one in the same fashion as a painting or a sculpture or even a symphony, but it is art and it is, in its own sense, everlasting and inspiring. Each book, each sheet of paper, is important in ways beyond just being held together. Books, no matter their genre, are the masterpieces of the Written Art.

by Shelby Hild, intern