March 11, 2010

Publisher voices hope for books, small presses

RAY ROUTHIER

— By

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Ari Meil is owner of Portland book publishing company, Warren Machine Co.. He will be moderating a panel on Maine�s influence on writers at the third Maine Festival of the Book, to be held in Portland this Thursday through Sunday. Photo is courtesy of Ari Meil.

Staff Writer

Ari Meil has faith in books.

At 32, he's already run his own Portland book publishing company, Warren Machine Co., for six years. Despite hard times for publishers and increased competition from an array of media, Meil is convinced that the book as we know it will survive.

It's the mainstream publishers, in his opinion, who need to change.

''The big publishers have seeded the ground with mistakes by not supporting authors, by not taking risks,'' Meil said. ''To produce art at a mass level, you need to invest in people who won't necessarily be big sellers, but that has been cut away from the industry.''

Thinking about the book as both a physical entity and an intellectual exercise will be very much in vogue this week when the third Maine Festival of the Book is held in Portland. It will begin Thursday and run through Sunday.

Meil, who will be moderating a panel at the festival focusing on Maine's influence on writers, has no doubt the book will survive. He thinks new wireless reading devices such as Kindle, which allow people to download e-books and read them on the go, will grow in popularity.

But he also believes the physical book won't go away.

''There is a tactile component to reading a book that will be hard for people to give up,'' Meil said. ''There's the smell, the sight of it on a shelf -- there's just something eternal about books.''

Meil thinks technology will actually help old-fashioned books grow in new ways. As book printing and layout technology continues to become less expensive and more accessible, it puts more power in the hand of small publishers and authors, Meil said.

Authors won't have to rely on big publishers to get their work to the public, and won't have to produce books that meet a big publisher's expectations, he said.

Writing creatively and taking chances will certainly be a focus of the Maine Festival of the Book, which includes events and talks with more than a dozen authors, most of them from Maine.

One of the authors at the festival will be Andrew McNabb of Portland, whose new book of spiritually influenced short stories, ''The Body of This,'' was published by Warren Machine.

The festival kicks off Thursday with a visual presentation, ''The History of the Book.'' Most of the free events, including talks by authors, will be held Saturday at the University of Southern Maine's Abromson Center in Portland.

The festival is organized by Maine Reads, a nonprofit literary organization established in 2004 under the leadership of Mary Herman, wife of former Gov. Angus King. The festival was started in 2007 and was the idea of Karen Baldacci, wife of Gov. John Baldacci.

''She had come back from a similar festival in Texas and was blown away,'' said Sarah Cecil, executive director of Maine Reads. ''She recognized that Maine has this strong literary heritage and a happening contemporary literary scene, and wanted to do something to celebrate it.''

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

rrouthier@pressherald.com

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