REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL: Leaders in the business of books reveal what they are optimistic about

[ Thu. Jan. 6. 2011 ]

Publishers, I was told by an august member of that tribe soon after I first wrote about them, are exactly like farmers. Whatever the weather, whatever the harvest, they just love to moan. Much in the world of books has changed since that moment, but not the propensity to grumble. During 2010, the "we're all doomed" tendency fed us on a bumper crop of of gloomy prognostications. Will almost-free digital distribution drain cash and credit out of the entire book-supply system? Do electronic books as a whole threaten to bankrupt publishers and pauperise authors? Has the spread of new media destroyed an appetite for reading any text tougher than a tweet among the born-digital generation?

Can anybody stop Google (with Amazon and Apple not far behind) seizing control of humanity's written heritage and using it to promote their partisan corporate agendas? Will independent high-street booksellers, well-stocked local libraries and reasonable advances for authors who don't appear on TV fade into the mists of bookish history, along with quill pens and lazy lunches? And can we ever hope to resist the takeover of publishing by celebrity clout when our Christmas chart-topper – Jamie Oliver's Jamie's 30-Minute Meals - comes from an author who cheerily admits that "I've never read a book in my life, ever, apart from my own". Respect to the recipes, though.

So book lovers need to embark on a chapter of hope. Every new year, John Brockman of the online intellectual powerhouse Edge (www.edge.org) asks its virtual community of scientists and social thinkers one question. In 2007, it was this: "What are you optimistic about?" To strike a less than despondent chord this January, I put the same question to a few people in the British book world who are best placed to know. Read their answers on these page

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