Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Espresso Machine

As all three regular readers of CAP will know, I’ve been off the smokes since Sunday, which is the longest period of non-smoking I’ve had for at least 20 years – although I am using nicotine replacement patches, so I feel like a bit of a fraud. Anyway, the point being, I may not be thinking all that clearly at the moment, so bear with me if this post is ludicrously naïve …
  I’ve just been writing a newspaper feature on the Espresso Book Machines (right), which are destined to revolutionise bookselling by virtue of their print-on-demand simplicity. You walk into a bookstore, ask for a particular book, and the folks there don’t have it? No problem, they’ll just print it off for you while-u-wait (and have an espresso, possibly). As I understand it, the quality of book that results is top-notch …
  At the moment, EBMs are retailing at €120,000, so it might be a while yet before your friendly independent bookstore gets one in. The flip side of the cost is that, once you have an EBM installed, then your storage / warehousing costs are cut to virtually nil, you’ll never have to send a customer away empty-handed again, and you are – in terms of stock, at least – finally operating on a level playing field with the chain-store operators.
  Happy days for indie bookstores, and especially those with an extra €120,000 lying around.
  Here’s what I’m wondering, though. If the EBM takes off – and it should, really, and not least because it’s environmentally friendly, reducing transport costs, and book pulping, etc., – then it’s very much the case that mainstream publishers will be making their books available to the public at large via print-on-demand EBMs. Correct? And if this is the case, then what will be the difference between, say, Random House and Lulu?
  There’s the quality issue, of course, because self-published / vanity published books tend to lack a certain rigour the discerning reader expects. But this isn’t always the case. I co-published THE BIG O with Hag’s Head back in 2007, paying half the costs, which is as close as it gets to vanity publishing without putting an actual mirror on the cover, and yet – if the reviews detailed down the left side of this page are any measure – the quality was fine and dandy-o by most readers.
  So, leaving aside the quality issue for a moment, what will be the difference between Lulu and Random House once the print-on-demand EBMs gain a foothold in the market?
  I mean, if I’m a writer, with a novel ready to go, then what’s to stop me establishing a tiny publishing house (Hubris Books, say), publishing the novel via Lulu, and then selling it through a combination of Amazon and EBM? Yes, I’m absorbing all the costs – but then, look at all the costs I’m side-stepping (printing, transport, distribution, returns, pulping). Plus, once Lulu prints off its first copy, it need never print off another copy again, leaving the heavy lifting to the EBMs.
  What you’re lacking, of course, is the kind of promotion and visibility an established and respected publishing house, like Random House, can bring to the table. But then, these days most writers are like me anyway, generating whatever limited publicity they can themselves, while the likes of Dan Brown and John Grisham hoover up the advertising spend.
  Of course, the new technology isn’t going to put big publishers out of business, which is a good thing, because good publishers bring good books to market, which is just fine by me. But the new technology might well foster a DIY spirit among writers akin to that which fuelled the punk movement in music circa 1975, which allowed independent voices be heard, voices that had something relevant worth saying that the mainstream at the time wasn’t listening to.
  The music industry hasn’t changed a whole lot over the last 30 years or so, although it is quickly adapting now to the new technologies, but I find it hard to believe that, without the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Buzzcocks and Joy Division, for example, we’d have got (for example) the non-mainstream sounds of some of my personal faves, such as Tindersticks, the Pixies, Antony and the Johnsons …
  Will the new technologies allow for more independent voices to emerge from the publishing industry? Will the industry celebrate and nurture such voices? Will it be a confrontational, adversarial relationship? Or is there a mutually beneficial balance to be struck between the established presences of mainstream publishing and their more indie, left-field brethren?
  Only time, that notoriously doity rat, will tell …

UPDATE: Lightning Source today revealed its new EBM strategy for Books Expo America – clickety-click here for more details. Or you could just roll it there, Collette …