Dead Elvis

Last weekend, I went to see Salt, the new action-thriller movie starring Angelina Jolie. No plot spoilers, but I did leave the theater disappointed.

At dinner afterward, we talked about what bothered us about the movie. For me, the plot violated a convention that makes movie-going fun – a certain predictability that allows surprises but still validates the underlying goodness of key characters.

Earlier this week, I posted a somewhat predictable observation about the symbiotic relationship between flawed piracy studies and lazy reporting. Commenting, bowerbird asked in part: “Knowing that, what do you do now?”

As I responded at the time, “That’s the operative question, isn’t it?”

There’s a convention in publishing, somewhat reflected in this blog, that leads us to say “all is well, except for the parts that are not.” Over the last two months, I’ve struggled with the idea that anything, let alone all, is well with publishing.

Today’s publishing landscape increasingly looks like Vulcan shortly after the Romulans injected Red Matter into the planet core. As Vulcan collapses, we publishing types are debating where the mountains used to be.

Before I started writing this blog, I made three semi-public rules of thumb, one of which was and remains: no snark. Positive criticism, yes, but I’d avoid being critical for the sake of a headline, or a punch line.

Unfortunately, the middle ground can also sound muddled.

One of my favorite books, Dead Elvis by Greil Marcus, talks about the transformative role that literary and cultural icons have played in shaping American history and its evolving narrative. In this category, he includes Lincoln, Faulkner, Melville and Elvis Presley, of whose collective works he wrote:

We feel ennobled and a little scared, or very scared, because we are being shown what we could be, because we realize what we are, and what we are not. We pull back.

Since this year’s edition of BookExpo America, I’ve wondered who in publishing speaks for what we could be. It’s not a question of who can predict the future (many people compete for that distinction), but of who can articulate for a broader audience the possibilities for publishing as cultural motherlode.

Some folks put that burden on Richard Nash and Cursor (I know I have). Still, he’s just one guy, and he could use some help.

This is a time of transformation in the creation, management and dissemination of content. Focusing on periodic dust-ups over rights, royalties and terms of engagement largely guarantees that most of us won’t have a seat at the next table to be set.

Naturally, I walk a thin line. I try to help magazine, book and association publishers do things faster, better, cheaper – generally, incrementally better. That’s a good thing.

Still, a clearer voice could help. I should get up.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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