The second thing was permanent: the book publishing industry is finally about to undergo the sort of revolution that the record, TV and movie industries have been grappling with for the past decade.
Till very recently most people, myself among them, felt that books would be protected from the internet revolution precisely because they were such old-fashioned artefacts: words on paper that couldn't be digitally stolen; actual objects you had to carry around. I haven't played a CD on any of my old hi-fi systems - relics of the audiophile age that sit gathering dust under the stairs - for at least five years. I now listen exclusively on my computer or Pod and it's all digital downloads. But somehow I figured books would be different. I believed in the notion that there was something special about them as objects.
The simplest way of telling that books are dead is that no one in New York publishing reads them any more. Submit a manuscript to an editor and they won't lug around a typescript. They'll have their assistant stick it on their Kindle or Sony Reader. And they'll do this for the same reason we all got iPods: because the utility and convenience outweigh all other considerations.
My new York gent is convinced that this is affecting the kind of books that are being bought by publishers. She reckons that all the various eBooks encourage 'reading-lite' - skimming over stories, ignoring subtlety, depth and character development. Editors I've spoken to disagree ... but then, they would, wouldn't they?
More importantly though is that once the digital genie is out the bottle, so is the whole paid-for book business. Very soon there will surely be a literary Napster, ripping off books and streaming them for free (Google Books might not have a million miles from that if copyright conditions had not been imposed on that massive book-copying project). Even now there are lots of wannabe writers offering books for free on Amazon's Kindle store.
So how are professional authors going to get paid? Rock stars make up for lost recording revenues by hiking concert ticket prices. But I don't see too many authors hitting the road and filling enormodomes?
Too many people go on about free content as if it's the ay of the future, almost a human right. But if the guy who fixes your plumbing gets paid, and the woman who operates on your bad back gets paid, and your car, house, food and clothes all cost money, why in hell's name should creative people work for free. Because guess what? We have to buy cars, food, clothes and plumbing too!
Over the next few years, we are going to have to fight to keep our business alive. This is a story with conspiracy, tension, action and multiple fatalities. But will it have a happy ending? After waht I saw in New York, I'm damned if I know ...