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I suppose Sarah Palin gets a bit of satisfaction from the title of her new book, Going Rogue.  It’s sort of an “in-your-face” taunt back at Tina Fey’s classic Saturday Night Live impression during the last election campaign, as well as at some of her other critics who also accused her of going rogue at the time.   I recall it all ended rather badly for the McCain/Palin team as the American public chose Barack Obama for President.  So, isn’t it just a little bit puzzling that Sarah’s new book is now number 1 on Amazon’s best seller list?  If so many American’s rejected McCain/Palin why are so many buying her book?  Do they even care what she thinks?  Even more puzzling is why so many are buying another book that is the #2 best seller on Amazon. I’m talking about Glenn Beck’s book, Arguing with Idiots: How to Stop Small Minds and Big Government.

Palin and Beck.  Number 1 and number 2 on the Amazon best seller list.  This is the list of best selling BOOKS I’m talking about, not video games. These are supposedly serious books that are read by serious readers, and this simple fact is something that should give the average American pause.  First, let’s consider Sarah Palin.  Clearly not noted for her shining intellect – remember her interview with Katie Couric? Time and again she proved that she had only the slightest knowledge of foreign affairs.  She couldn’t name a single newspaper or magazine that she read. She had, and continues to have, enormous difficulty in speaking the English language, preferring to speak in short, clipped phrases, often leaving out the subject of her sentence, and not overly concerned with being grammatically correct.  One can only wonder how she managed to write a book that bears any semblance of coherent thought… (Hmmm…maybe it doesn’t).

And then there’s Glenn Beck.  he is more of a carnival barker and shill for the Republican Party than a news reporter interested in getting out the truth.  He has a distinct gift for outrageously twisting and distorting facts, and then serving up his grotesque visions as insights for those members of the American public who believe that Fox television actually broadcasts news. His book, though it barely has a three star rating on Amazon, is in second place in sales.  Really.  Palin and Beck, number 1 and number 2 in book sales in America.  Frankly, I had no idea that the fanatical, extreme, right wing of America actually reads books.  So this is what they read…

The question that comes to mind though is this: is it only the lunatic fringe that is reading these books? If so, just how big is the lunatic fringe anyway, and should it still be called the “fringe”.  Could it be that lunacy has now become mainstream in America?  Could it be that the entire country, at least the majority of those who read books, have gone over the edge?  Have we, as a country, gone rogue?  Wait, maybe there is another explanation that makes more sense.  Maybe Americans just don’t buy very many books anymore. Remember when to be a bestseller you had to sell a million copies?  Maybe that’s not true anymore.  Perhaps people aren’t buying too many books during this worldwide Great Recession.  Maybe the rules have changed and you only have to sell a thousand books to be number 1 on the best seller list these days.  Could that be it?

Or wait, maybe there really are a lot of Americans from the center and the left who are buying millions of the Palin and Beck books too – but they are doing it just for all the laughs and chuckles they get when they read them – sort of like reading a joke book.  Could that be it?

Or, could the sad truth be that America has finally gone rogue?  Have we all sort of mystically drunk the Kool-Aid of the extreme right?  Has there been some sort of weird subliminal message campaign inflicted upon the liberal left to make us all order Sarah’s book a month before it even comes out and shoot it to the top of the charts?  Could that be it?  A vast right wing conspiracy to indoctrinate Americans as they channel surf past Fox news?  Come to think of it, doesn’t Glenn Beck have sort of weird hypnotic looking eyes?  And Sarah Palin, the way she talks so incoherently, could it be she is really just planting subtle and subliminal messages in our brains – a message simply saying “Go rogue, America…go rogue…go rogue”?  Could that be it?

I wonder what Glenn Beck would say about my theory, and even more importantly, does Sarah Palin have the courage to deny it?

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It’s not bad enough that the stock market is collapsing, the banks are going under, and unemployment is skyrocketing. Now we have this.  The print publishing industry is about to go belly up.  It seems that almost all the major newspapers have created online editions that are available free to anyone who wants to sign up.  Those newspapers that still publish hard copies are trying to figure out how to stay in business at a time when sales are down, and advertising revenues are down, while the internet versions of the papers are not only free to readers, but they are also undated hourly so they provide much more up to the minute coverage of the news than any print edition possibly could.

Now, the same sort of thing is happening to the book industry.  With the successful launch of Amazon’s Kindle people can download a bestseller for a fraction of the price of a hard copy.  Yet, at the same time, Amazon can make money on these low priced editions.  That is because the cost to publish is negligible compared to printing hard copies of books, distributing them, and so forth, only to find out that the publisher guessed wrong about the demand for the book and they printed way too many copies that will never be sold.  It is clear that online publishing and distribution is far more cost effective than hard copy book publishing. However, there are other advantages that will also ensure that the print media will soon disappear.

Take Amazon’s Kindle for example.  There are other electronic book readers, but this seems to be the most popular at the moment.  It can store over 200 books in a small handheld device that is as easy to read and as easy on the eyes as a paper book.  Imagine if students could have all their textbooks stored in their Kindle.  No more lugging around a backpack with 40 pounds of books. Also, if you haven’t bought a textbook recently, you might be startled to see how expensive they are, some cost well over $100 each. However, without the need to print copies and guess how many might be sold, it would be expected that electronic textbooks will provide a great cost savings to students (and their parents).

There  is also another characteristic of electronic books that will completely revolutionize the publishing industry.  Suppose you want to be a novelist.  OK, well you have to write your entire novel first.  Then you have to get a literary agent interested, based upon sending them a couple of sample chapters.  If they don’t resonate with your book, then their answer is “no”.  If you are one of the very, very few who actually gets an agent, then your agent has to find a publisher who also likes the book. This is not a sure thing.  Remember the book business is a business. They don’t publish good books, they publish books that they think will sell a lot of copies.  After all, that’s how they make money. So today, someone like Sarah Palin can get a $10 million book deal without having written a single page, because she is famous and the publishers figure a lot of people will buy her book regardless of what she says in it.  On the other hand an unknown scientist could solve Einstein’s perplexing problem of the Grand Unified Field Theory and not get published at all because the publishing industry didn’t understand what he was talking about and besides not more than ten people will buy it anyway.

The new electronic book industry will be, in some ways, like the new world of blogs and You Tube and Facebook. There will be opportunities for many people to publish their books and get discovered and maybe even make money. The land of the electronic publishing is a land of opportunity for publishers and readers alike. It will offer low cost books to everyone and a thousand (a million?) times more titles and topics that we ever could have with the print industry.  I suppose we will need something like Digg to help people decide which books to consider, but overall, it will be a much more democratic system that will enable people to write about and read about even the most arcane topics in an inexpensive way. It will lead to an explosion of knowledge and the potential of entirely new types of books, for example, books that have embedded video. It will also lead to interactive books, massively collaborative books, and who knows what else.

Get ready. Change is coming; no it’s already here and growing fast right now at Amazon.  This is just the beginning for a new generation of reading devices that will cause printed books to soon go the way of papyrus scrolls.  It is an exciting time for anyone who is an author or a reader of books.  It will revolutionize how we communicate and how we learn.  The ebook will soon be seen as the greatest thing since Gutenberg invented the printing press.

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