The only thing that could save the traditional New York publishers isn’t mergers or a sequel to 50 Shades.
What New York really needs: a Martian invasion.
Little green men landing not among the credulous in a Kansas cornfield but in Times Square. Preferably just outside the Today Show studios.
Think of it: all those books to address a sudden, massive interest in Martian history. Martian geography. Martian recipes. Martian diet tips. Martian sex tips. Martian stock tips. Martian relationship tips.
Why would people be interested in all things Martian? Because people are no longer especially interested in anything down-to-Earth.
The publishing world has mined and exhausted every topic under the Sun: our history; our geography; our recipes; our diet, sex, stock, and relationship advice.
With Carl Sagan-like numbers of books already in print and available on Amazon and 150,000 available at your local brick-and-mortar superstore (if it’s still standing), the obvious question arises: why publish even one more book?
What more can be said?
What more can be read?
By now, practically every book on the market is either entirely derivative of the last twenty books in the same field or contains one, two, or a maximum of three new ideas, stretched and tortured mercilessly to book length by acquisition editor Torquemadas.
A prime example of page inflation is the Sedona Method, a book that purports to offer a new kind of meditation. The actual technique can be found on approximately page 218. Everything before and after that page is just filler.
At some point, average book buyers came to recognize that buying a new book is a waste of time and money. It’s not for nothing that bookstores, which once dotted malls and downtowns, disappeared faster than Twinkies and Ding Dongs.
Frequent book buyers are at the far right end of the bell curve of intelligence. And they are coming to recognize the sorry truth about books: that books benefit publishers and bookstores (by generating revenue) and authors (by generating prestige since they seldom receive royalties), but not readers.
There’s no other product on the market that contains so little value for consumers with the exceptions of the aforementioned Twinkies and Ding Dongs, and you know what happened to them.
Go ahead, I dare you: find me a motivational book that does anything than bare a new set of shiny motivational speaker teeth on the cover and yet is toothless on the inside.
Give me a diet and/or exercise book that tells you something other than move more and eat less.
Treat me to a book on politics that demonstrates something other than the President’s flaws or flawlessness.
Hand me a book on popular science that explains something deeper than the fact that men have nipples and women have babies.
Find me a book on business that says anything other than good people working hard leads to profits.
In short, show me a new book that has the slightest bit of new in it. And I will season that book with pepper and salt, garland it with cilantro, and eat it.
The deeper question: do we Earthlings still need “books” at all?
If we just want a morsel of information, there’s Wikipedia.
If we need more, there’s Google.
If we need still more, there is no end of academic or professional white papers and databases on every topic.
If we need considerably more, there are already 6,000 books on every topic available on Amazon.
If we need even more than that, we’re A) obsessed; B) an expert in the field; C) no longer a typical mass market consumer, or D) all of the above.
As for books published by academic presses, which nobody wants, buys, or reads, don’t get me started.
So publishers, bookstores, and authors need new books to come out.
But what about readers?
With a few, increasingly rare, cases, the need is vanishing.
This is why the New York publishers should pray for a Martian invasion. For it will usher in a new level of curiosity about matters that even Google cannot satisfy. People will have a whole new world, literally, to discover.
Until then, books are terrific if you’re an author, necessary if you’re a bookstore, and a crapshoot if you’re a publisher. But if you’re a reader, their value is in free fall.
Ronald Reagan used to extemporize before live audiences, to the drum-like sound of his handlers slapping their foreheads in unison, about how only a Martian invasion could pull the whole world together. If he had been speaking about the publishing world, he would have been not terribly far from the truth.
New York Times best selling author and Shark Tank contestant Michael Levin runs BusinessGhost, Inc., America’s leading provider of ghostwritten books.