Anyone who is interested in the state and fate of publishing has by now heard all the theories. Print is dead. Print will always be around. Everything will change. Everything will pretty much stay the same. Things will be the same, but different. Things will be different, but largely the same.
At this point, though, only one truth has emerged: the future importance of digital publishing is obvious. The remaining question is exactly how important will it be. Will it be the dominant mode of publishing? Or will it have to play nice with print? I think the reasonable position is “it’s too early to tell,” though many are trying to guess where the ship is headed. And this is perfectly reasonable; the livelihood of a great many people is at stake here, and some sense of direction can allow those people time to maneuver.
It strikes me though that while we have heard from writers, editors, agents, publishers, booksellers, critics, and every other position on the supply side, we haven’t heard much from the demand side. The book consumer, or as Virginia Woolf called them “the common reader,” to this point has only had a statistical presence.
Most of the commentary from the publishing-complex will naturally be tinged with some self-interest: it’s quite rare to see an independent bookstore owner foretell disaster for print just as it is rare to see a tech pundit argue the converse. None of these perspectives though has made much effort to understand what readers want and how the various modes of publication, both as they are and what they might be, respond to those desires.
Lost in all of this debate is the relatively simple truth: the medium that best serves most of the desires of most of the readers will win. It seems then that some discussion of what readers want, abstracted from any particular medium, might be useful.
As I see it there are seven broad things readers want, regardless of their specific taste. Each reader will rank and weight these categories differently, but I think there might be a particular profile of “the common reader” that will shape the future of publishing. I am not sure what that profile is exactly, and I even think it still is being formed as digital publishing matures.
The Seven Things All Readers Want From Publishing
In no particular order:
Readers want there to be choice: romance, technical manuals, memoir, children’s, fantasy, thriller, literary fiction and on and on.
Not only do readers want choice, but they also want those choices to be good.
Readers want reading to be affordable.
Readers want to be able to find things they are interested in. This means both genres they are already familiar with and exploration.
Readers want to be able to get something to read as easily as possible.
Readers want to enjoy the experience both of reading books and of purchasing them.
Readers want reading to fit into their lives easily.
Did I miss anything? Which of these is the most important to you and why?