A couple of years ago, the big news at BookExpo America was e-books — and whether they meant the sky was falling for the publishing industry.
This year, the news at the national convention (attended by about 21,000 publishers, authors, booksellers and librarians) was that e-books aren't news — they're just part of the book business.
Case in point: As I walked the floor at the massive Jacob Javits Center, I noticed one of my favorite authors, Margaret Atwood, standing at a lectern. Behind her on a large screen was a live video image of her and another of author Michael Chabon (also a fave), who was chatting with her and convention attendees from his office in Berkeley, Calif.
And what were two of the most acclaimed of contemporary literary writers (Atwood has a Booker Prize, Chabon a Pulitzer) doing? Demonstrating iDoLVine, "virtual book tour" technology that combines live video chat with long-distance digital signing of print books — or e-books.
Although the economics of digital book selling are still in the Wild West phase — with publishers, authors and booksellers duking it out for shares of the profits — it's clear that e-books are a breath of fresh air for the industry, not a kiss of death. Sales of e-books are growing at a stunning rate, now accounting for about 20 percent of book sales. That's up from practically nonexistent five years ago.
The week before BookExpo, Amazon.com announced that it is now selling more e-books than print books. (It is also creating its own publishing imprint.) According to Scott Dougall, director of product management for Google eBooks, who spoke at BookExpo May 25, the number of people who own e-readers has quadrupled in the last year. During the convention, Kobo launched a $130 e-reader, and Barnes & Noble announced a new $139 model of its Nook reader.
Just about every publisher has boarded the digital bandwagon, even if some of them are still trying to figure out how to make the new paradigm work. And the rocketing growth of e-books is not necessarily bad news for bricks-and-mortar bookstores: About 250 independent bookstores (including Tampa's Inkwood Books) have signed on to sell e-books through Google eBooks' program.
But the uproar over the new delivery system has died down a bit, and the business of BookExpo seems to have returned to its essence: the book.
Hundreds of authors attend the event to meet the people who they hope will recommend their books to readers. Here is what some of those authors had to say about books and writing:
"Every day I can think of 10 things I would rather do than go out to my office and make stuff up." — Novelist Charles Frazier (Cold Mountain), whose Nightwoods will be published in October
"I hate to say this, but I'm the only novelist I've met who had a fine time in high school." — Children's author Daniel Handler, a.k.a. Lemony Snicket; his YA novel Why We Broke Up (with artist Maira Kalman) will be out in January.
"I didn't want to be a wife. I wanted to be a hot date." — Actor Diane Keaton (Annie Hall), whose memoir Then Again comes out in November
"The marriage plot is the great subject of the 19th century novel. What I realized was that the great subject of the novel was something I and my contemporaries couldn't treat. What if Isabel Archer had a prenup? And Anna Karenina ... instead of throwing herself under that train, she would just take the Russian equivalent of a trip to Reno and get a quick divorce." — Novelist Jeffrey Eugenides (Middlesex), whose book The Marriage Plot comes out in October
"It threw me off base the first time a reader told me I was completely wrong about my characters. I've met people (Edgar Allan) Poe would put in a story on the spot." — Novelist Charlaine Harris; her bestselling Sookie Stackhouse novels include Dead Reckoning, published in May.
"I compare moderating a presidential debate to walking carefully down the blade of a very sharp knife." — Broadcast journalist Jim Lehrer, whose book Tension City: Inside the Presidential Debates, from Kennedy-Nixon to Obama-McCain will be out in September
"You're listening to Alex, a voice program that lives in my laptop. He sounds better than HAL in 2001, but he doesn't sound as good as my wife, Chaz." — Film critic Roger Ebert, who cannot speak because of the effects of thyroid cancer, reading from his memoir Life Itself (out in September) with the help of his wife and his computer
"Dublin is a writing town. In New York, if you want to be successful, you go out and make a lot of money. In Dublin, you go home and write a book." — Man Booker Prize-winning novelist Anne Enright, whose book The Forgotten Waltz comes out in October
"In my experience, ignorance is a perfect starting point for a story." — Journalist Mark Bowden (Black Hawk Down), whose book Worm: The Story of the First Digital World War will be out in October
"I like to think of myself as the Indiana Jones of libraries, rappelling down the 900 levels of the Dewey Decimal System." — Erik Larson, whose book about Nazi Berlin, In the Garden of Beasts, was published in May
"I was bleeding from my ears writing this. My wife, Lara, was basically my co-writer. She made all my run-on sentences work. I write like I talk, so you can imagine." — Fast-talking actor Jane Lynch (Glee), whose memoir, Happy Accidents, will be out in September
"When I started writing this, I used font (size) 14. Now I use font 18. ... I hope you like the book as much as I do." — Actor and activist Jane Fonda, whose book on aging, Prime Time, will be out in August