As the owner of a small but well-established publishing house producing enduring literary works, I'm often asked where I think the publishing industry is ultimately headed. Twenty years ago that question would have been greeted with a quixotic lilt of the head. Today it elicits mainly a puzzled half-frown. 

For the past ten or more years, publishing has experienced one major upheaval after another. In the USA, first came the demise of several major bookseller chains, and the gradual repurposing of those remaining from the presentation and selling of books to gifts, video games and toys. At almost the same time, small independent bookstores throughout the nation began closing their doors. Interestingly, while occasionally commented on in the press, I've never heard a cohesive readership response to this losses other than that of minor inconvenience.

The second was the introduction of fee-for-service self-publishing. Before self-publishing, the industry was loosely divided into trade and vanity publishers, the former financially depending primarily on book sales, the latter on enticing the author to pay for traditional services like editing, cover design, publicity, marketing, distribution and ultimately sales. 

The third was the entry of Amazon into online book sales, quickly followed by the appearance of Amazon affiliates for printing, eBook creation, distribution and fulfillment. I purposefully didn't mention the appearance of eBooks, as more of a provider-created phenomenon, they continue to lag behind provider expectations. Their presence as an evolutionary intermediary will, nonetheless, continue to impact the industry, for now, in a tangential sort of way. 

The fourth is the rapidly developing, expensive yet lucrative world of cinematic-style "entertainment." This includes its own future, that of virtual sensory experience. As immersive full-sensory entertainment unfolds, what need or even desire will there be to have to read, think or imagine? In the long run, this development will, I believe, prove to the the final nail in individual literacy's coffin. 

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The fifth was the development and popularization of Wikipedia. The key to its impact is that anyone and everyone can contribute directly to the sum of human knowledge, and the public's perception and acceptance of meta-information as intrinsically "true." Just as Truman Capote changed writing forever with the popularization of the historical novel form, Wikipedia cemented in the concept of truth value without the need for critical thinking. If that was and continues to be its dark face, then I have to mention alongside the inspiring idea that each person's life experience, as they wish to present it, is part of the development of a single, holistic, all-inclusive library of human experience. In rapidly dehumanizing world, where emphasis is increasingly placed on "product" development and sales, rather than fulfilling "service" needs, while this latter movement is still in its infancy, I believe it to be the single most important force influencing the future of of the publishing industry.  Everyone's collected, individual stories, in printed, audio and/or audio-video format, will eventually replace non-fiction and the historical novel, leaving future "author" to peruse, summarize and eventually weave and interpret these myriad stories into what will come to be publicly regarded a purposeful "history" of humankind. The ultimate story, or, in today's terms, the ultimate entertainment. 

There is one other development in the publishing world that I didn't mention that nonetheless has to be, if only as a post-script: the popularization and public acceptance of violence, whether non-sexual or sexual, as a form of entertainment. Perhaps this, more than anything else, is, in my opinion, driving readers away from reading and towards immersive virtual sensory experience. I can imagine a brave new world in which violence and sex in the extreme become primary virtual entertainments, and everything human and interpersonal become largely irrelevant — the ultimate world of haves and have nots, privileged and non-privileged, manipulators and the manipulated, where for financial reasons, products for the passive are everything and human service is provided at the minimal level necessary to keep the "system" working. 

Dystopic and despotic? Maybe. Of course, things don't have to proceed in this manner. We could as readers rise collectively and demand more, but then, aren't we all looking to "new entertainment" to mentally remove us from the increasing inhumanity of today's world?