Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Hospice for Publishers?

In today’s edition of Jacket Copy, Los Angeles Times blogger Carolyn Kellogg brings attention to a possibly satirical but not entirely incredible suggestion made by Bob Stein in The Institute for the Future of the Book’s blog, if:book. Stein writes:
One of my best friends’ parents both became very ill this year. Her mother, 87, elected to have a feeding tube inserted permanently. She is confined to her bed, alone much of the time, and in constant pain, waiting for the inevitable end, which thanks to the feeding tube may be many miserable months ahead. Her father, 90, elected to enter a hospice facility where he spent his last three weeks eating yogurt, sipping the occasional last whiskey, and having long wonderful visits with his three children, their spouses and his beloved grown grandchildren. By all accounts it was a very good death.

Thinking about my friend’s parents makes we wonder why their [sic] couldn’t be a “hospice” option for publishers, many of whom--my low-end guess is at least 50%--won’t survive the transition from print to networked screens. If a publisher doesn’t have the requisite vision, desire and resources to embrace digital, what’s wrong with saying, “Gee, it’s been a great 25, 50, 100-year run. Instead of beating our heads against a wall and dying an ugly death, why don’t we go out in style.” Once this difficult decision is arrived at, it would be a matter of selling the assets that can be sold, providing staff with generous severance and really helping them to find new jobs, and then at the very end giving some wonderful parties, celebrating the end of an era. A death with integrity and dignity intact.

Please understand that I make this suggestion with huge love and respect for publishers. At their best they have played a crucial role in the complex discourse that moves society forward. Like a beloved parent, there’s no reason why they should suffer more than necessary at the end of a full and productive life.
An interesting--if depressing--thought, indeed.

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