The business of publishing and selling books will continue its radical change. But some things are eternal.
In the most basic sense, the purpose of our industry has remained the same for centuries: the telling of stories and the chronicling of events. Whether the medium was the symbols and images scrawled on the walls of caves, scrolls painstakingly drawn by hand, or the Gutenberg press which made books available to audiences of ever-increasing sizes, the function has never really changed. Reading, in whatever format is the standard for its time, provides eternal pleasures and insights -- and the bookseller plays a crucial role in making the written word widely available.
Here is a basic fact: books are not disappearing, no matter what naysayers may assert from time to time. Publishing is under pressure, but that has always been the case. It is often said that after Gutenberg printed his famous edition of the Bible, the second book he published was "The Book Is Dead." But it wasn't true in 1454 and it isn't true today. Yes, the economics of the media industries are evolving rapidly. Within your lifetime, the music, film, broadcasting, newspaper and magazine businesses have all been transformed by the digital revolution. It would be foolish to think that publishing is immune. But the book industry has some unique attributes that will help shape our future. Unlike other information and entertainment products, books don't carry advertising, so we don't have to worry about losing that revenue. We also don't have subscribers for the most part, so we're not losing them either.
The issue for books has always been inventory management: that is getting the right books to the right place at the right time. In 2005, with support from the MacArthur and Carnegie foundations, I started a project called Caravan to help nonprofit and university presses do books in all the ways possible: in print, as e-books, as audio books, in large print, and from print-on-demand machines in local bookstores. The motto we adopted for our project and the mantra I want to leave with you is this: Good Books. Any Way You Want Them. Now.