The company I currently work for has a subscription to the Portland Business Journal, so it’s a paper I have access to each week that I probably wouldn’t read otherwise. It doesn’t have a plethora of pieces that I can use for work, which is theoretically why we receive it, but I frequently find information that’s interesting to me personally. There might be news of a building sale in my neighborhood or a local company getting off the ground that might be relevant to my interests.
In the August 23rd, 2019 issue, there was an interview with author Chuck Klosterman that caught my attention. His name sounded familiar but I was surprised I hadn’t encountered his work before, especially since he moved to Portland a couple of years back.
One specific answer he gave in the interview caught my attention.
PBJ: What is it like being a working author now?
I think it’s extremely difficult for a new person to enter the publishing industry at this point. But I’ve been doing this now for 18 years. I’m kind of inside the gates.
Frankly, with the growing disinterest the public has in reading, the middle class of writing has disappeared. If somebody wants to buy a book, they almost have to know what that book is and who wrote it before they even look for it. In the past when Barnes and Noble and places like that became really popular, people would go to bookstores almost as a social extension of their life, which they still kind of do at Powell’s.
Now, it’s hard to be a writer who exists by selling 20,000 copies of your book. It seems as though you have to sell 300,000 copies and almost work as a kind of celebrity or your book sells less than 5,000 copies and you have to do it as a hobby.
The “growing disinterest the public has in reading” bit hit me like a brick, yet I can’t argue with the perspective. And I certainly can’t forget the local publisher who thought I was overqualified for their open position when I was fresh out of my publishing program back in 2012, looking less at job title and more at gaining actual paid experience at an operational publishing company. Portland has so few of them.
While I can’t argue with a single thing Klosterman says here—it is indeed the state of the industry—the bleak sentiment really got to me. I suppose the angle I’ve taken over the last 20 years has been that publishing books isn’t the only avenue where editorial work—writing, editing, photo research, and the like—is needed. I’ve worked on museum exhibits, multimedia projects, company websites, but also printed books as well.
Young publishers, things may feel increasingly like an idiocracy but that just means your skills are needed even more in this world.