Category Archives: Books
How has digitisation changed the landscape for publishers and authors? Has it given them a voice or taken their voice away?
Bookshops, publishing houses, high streets, libraries and literary festivals were all used to popularize books in the past. But today, apart from one medium, the rest have all suffered a major setback owing to the internet. Award-winning authors and renowned publishers discuss the demise of the book trade.
The Last Rare Bookshop
Melvin Clark, owner of Bournemouth’s last rare and second-hand bookshop explains the collapse of his industry because of the internet.
Middlemen not needed
John Mitchinson, who was the first Managing Director of Waterstones says, ‘The old model is wasteful. Quarter of the books published are destroyed every year. Only one in five books that are commissioned back their advances. The average author earns £16,000 a year; take out the top-10 and its only £4,000.’
Digital author Michelle Dry explains why it makes more sense for authors to go digital: ‘Published authors earn 10% of the revenue generated from their books because a lot of money is lost between the final edit and hitting the racks in bookstores. This money goes to a literary agent, literary editor, publisher and for shelf-space, printing, marketing, sales, inventory, etc.’
Authors, like Dry, have realized that by publishing a book online they can pocket 70% of the revenue they generate from book sales. With websites like Amazon, Smashwords and Kindle, the process of self-publishing online just got a whole lot easier.
But Dr James Pope, senior media lecturer at Bournemouth University, believes that it is only a matter of time before the online publishing fad wears off: ‘The power of publishing houses cannot be underestimated. They will never go completely out of business. They have the budget to get you noticed, to present you at festivals and fairs, get you on TV and radio. In a while we will settle back to organisations doing a better job for a writer than a writer can do for themselves.’
Libraries need a makeover
If people prefer buying books online, does this mean they prefer reading it at home as well. What, then, does this mean for libraries in the UK?
Dr Pope believes that we are currently witnessing the slow demise of libraries because the government will not support media developments that will help sustain them. For example, he would like to see it as a place where people can go to access iPads and work on the latest digital technology.
But a state-of-the-art library in Poole fails to attract customers even though it has reinvented itself beyond books.
The curious case of literary festivals
Now when you assume that the book trade is dying and libraries aren’t getting footfalls, it’s almost a given that literary festivals too would suffer the same fate. However, the situation seems to be exactly the opposite.
Sue Luminati, who organised the Poole Literary Festival last year, said, ‘Literary festivals in England are massive. There are loads of them all over the country. They tend to be smaller, lower key events.’
She adds, ‘When you see an author speaking close to you, it broadens your mind, uplifts you and does everything good festivals should do. Festivals today are doing literature, music and food, so it’s not only a literary festival.’
Mitchinson, too, believes its the face-to-face connection with authors that works in favour of literary festivals.
Dr Pope compares this to the music industry in the UK. He says, ‘All of the record companies are really keen to get in on live music. Collecting albums is not what it used to be; people are spending more on going to live music festivals. Maybe that’s the same with literary festivals. It just means that the emphasis has shifted from sitting at home and reading to interacting and discussing about writing and reading.’
Authors and publishing experts discuss the digitisation of the publishing industry and the exciting crossroad that we’re at.
For the first time since the invention of the printing press, America recorded higher digital sales than physical copies in February 2011. With the Amazon Kindle and Apple iPad doubling up as ebook-readers, its not rare for a UK child to not have a book.
‘Digital is the most exciting thing to have happened in many many generations for publishing,’ says John Mitchinson, a former publisher with over two decades of experience in the trade. His views are echoed by Dr James Pope, a media lecturer at Bournemouth University, who firmly believes that, in the years to come, books will come alive with interactivity.
The problem of piracy
But author Andy McDermott, who has just sold his millionth physical copy, believes that because things have mushroomed so fast, publishers face the challenge of systemising the process, so that things don’t get out of hand, like it did with the music industry:
Decreasing attention spans
But why are we becoming an increasingly digitised population?
‘Our attention spans are shifting. We want more immediacy and a bigger impact more quickly. That affects how we interpret things as well. It’s just human life evolving,’ says Tricia Walker whose book Benedict’s Brother is being converted into a movie.
But Dr Pope believes that we don’t have shorter attention spans, it’s just a matter of what keeps us interested: ‘If people did have shorter attention spans, then no one would go and watch a film because they last for about 2-3 hours. It’s just that the media and our behaviour have changed alongside each other.’
Mitchinson believes this will not affect the power of a good narrative: ‘Short attention span is part of the human condition. The modern age may have accentuated it because there are a lot more things to do but I don’t think it spells the end of the narrative. Things are adapting and changing and this is a good thing.’
Does this mean books are dead?
Mitchinson, one of the brains behind Unbound, says that digital books are not killing the physical copies. ‘What will happen is that physical copies will make great gifts, especially if they are beautifully bound and typeset, or else, they will have to be signed as collectible first editions.’
The rest of the authors on the panel, too, agree that digitized books and interactive websites are the way forward and that physical copies of books may just become collectable items.
McDermott, however, says that there will always be the rare exceptions: ‘One in 10 films actually makes a profit by Hollywood standards. But the profits they make are enough to make up for the nine that don’t. It looks like the book industry is headed that way.’
He adds, ‘There are obvious superstars like (J.K.) Rowling and (Dan) Brown who are guaranteed mega-sellers. The amount they make gives their publishers the confidence to put out things and take a risk with it.’ But, he, too, agrees that we are on the cusp of a digital revolution.
Mitchinson sums it up best saying, ‘Apps are redefining books and how one would read and interact with the text. It’s like Cortez looking out over the Pacific. We are right at the beginning of a huge adventure. It’s much bigger than even the invention of a paperback. This digital revolution really is like Gutenberg all over again.’