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Beth Cox Report: December 2014

Dear Loyal Readers, Authors, and Publishers,

I'd like to start by giving a shout-out to another website belonging to decades-long friends of the MBR family. It's the site for the online and Madison-based brick-and-board store 20th Century Books,

(No relation to the "South Park" cartoon series). They specialize in comic books, graphic novels, mysteries, sci-fi, fantasy, and pop culture. The proprietor Hank Luttrell also offers consultation services for small publishers, authors, event organizers, and booksellers. I especially recommend "Hank's Writings", a collection of assorted brief essays and thoughtful musings he's compiled over the years.

Reflecting upon the publishing industry in 2014, I don't think it has been a year of sudden changes, but rather an ever-increasing groundswell of small changes that are becoming more ubiquitous:

* More publishers than ever before are moving their catalogs and other publicity materials online. Quite a few have completely discontinued their printed catalogs, to save both money and trees.

* More industry communication and commerce than ever before is online. Amazon remains the supreme online juggernaut, but I often see booksellers, from large companies to self-published indie authors, selling on their own sites as well as Amazon's.

* Smartphones and tablet computers with internet access are increasingly integrated into commerce, socialization, and everyday life. Scannable QR codes more prevalent than ever.

I had a moment of revelation when I saw an individual state, completely serious, that "A smartphone is a necessity." To him, a smartphone is as important as food and water, because it is an invaluable tool for career networking and workplace efficiency, helping him earn money to pay for his groceries and utilities!

* Ebooks and digital music/audio downloads are more widespread and user-friendly than ever. It is gradually becoming the exception, not the rule, for a printed book to have no ebook version. It is exceedingly rare for a music CD not to have a digital version. Ebook/digital music copies are sometimes sold together with the physical copy, offering the best of both worlds in one package.

* Digital piracy is also more widespread than ever. It generally doesn't stop e-publishing from being profitable due to extremely low startup and distribution costs, but that doesn't mean it's a victimless crime. The ones hurt most are indie authors living on the margins; the size of their royalties determines whether they can write for a living full-time, and digital piracy cuts into that.

I remain convinced that the printed book is never going to fade away completely, just as physical stores aren't going to be completely replaced by their online counterparts. But a hybrid future is taking shape; a future where every physical book purchase comes with an included ebook version, and every brick-and-board retailer also uses the Internet to secure their bottom line.

December's Link of the month is an excellent website to help one keep pace with exciting new technological changes: the Pew Research Center's Internet Project

I recommend checking out their current front-page article, "Technology's Impact on Workers". "Email remains the most important digital tool for workers. Just 7% of online job holders say the internet makes them less productive at work, but 35% say they spend more time working because of the internet, email and cell phones."

On to December's Review of the Month. This title sheds light on an enduring societal problem, and gives voice to the voiceless:

Silent Voices
Robert L. Okin, MD
Golden Pine Press
38 Miller Avenue, #121
Mill Valley, CA 94941
9780996077705 $19.95

Practicing psychiatrist, professor, and former commissioner of mental health Robert L. Okin, MD presents Silent Voices: People with Mental Disorders on the Street, a sobering portrait of homeless mentally ill individuals. Photographic portraits (mostly in color, some black-and-white) are paired with text passages about each profiled individual - sometimes their first-person testimony, sometimes their response to interview questions, and Okin's candid accounts of his encounters with them. One homeless man candidly observes, "If the city really wanted to do something to help them, it's gotta do something other than put 'em back on the street, give 'em a welfare check, and expect them to use it to pay for a shitty, overpriced, depressing little room. People would rather live on the streets, smoke crack, and take their chances on getting arrested again. You gotta give 'em something they view as too valuable to lose if they get caught again, like real housing." The closing chapter is Okin's straightforward assessment of how deinstitutionalization led to an epidemic of homeless mentally ill, and how criminalization of the homeless has exacerbated the problem. Silent Voices shines a spotlight on a serious, ongoing social problem in America, and is worthy of the highest recommendation.

That's all for the December 2014 Beth Cox Report, and soon, 2014 itself. Happy new year!

Bethany Cox
Managing Editor
The Midwest Book Review

James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI 53575-1129
phone: 1-608-835-7937

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