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.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Only The Trashy And The Brilliant Will Thrive

There was an excellent piece in the Daily Telegraph by Sameer Rahim yesterday, which should be required reading for anyone interested in the future of publishing, aka Publishing 2.0. The gist runs below, but it’s well worth reading in full here
“The death of independent bookshops is just one symptom of a much wider crisis in publishing. Discounted books, online bookselling and the advent of ebooks are destroying old patterns of reading and book buying. We are living through a revolution as enormous as the one created by Gutenberg’s printing press – and authors and publishers are terrified they will become as outdated as the monks who copied out manuscripts. How this happened is down to ambitious editors, greedy agents, demanding writers and big businesses with an eye for easy profit. Combine that with devilishly fast technological innovation and you have a story as astonishing as the credit crunch – and potentially as destructive …
  “We are living through a moment when all the balls have been thrown in the air and no one is sure where they will land. In the digital age, will publishers and agents survive in their current form? Derek Johns argues that “authors need agents as first readers and financial advisers” and someone will have to collate and distribute books whether in bound or ebook form. But will they? How long can it be before Tesco (which already has a 10 per cent share of the book market) stops dealing with fussy publishers and brands its own books? The ebook is also changing things dramatically. The iPad arrives in this country next month and looks set to put the Sony Reader out of commission. Perhaps more significantly, ebooks will allow writers to bypass agents, publishers and bookshops by launching their work on the web or exchanging it quickly among themselves. The extra costs involved in manufacturing books will inevitably come to make them seem a luxury and make the bound book as obsolete as vinyl.
  “Without some form of institutional support, there is a risk that only the trashy and the brilliant will thrive. That might sound like a bracingly efficient way of doing things, but the wonder of books is that no one can ever be sure how important they might be – or who might start slowly and then turn, eventually, into a genius. The careers of many authors show that the mercurial and the eccentric often take a long time to be appreciated. Abolishing the gatekeepers – however excessive or peculiar they may be – will not help reveal all those hidden talents to public view. Instead, the danger is our bookshelves will come to resemble a long line of branded baked beans.” – Sameer Rahim
  With impeccable timing, Smashwords announced its hook-up with the iPad, by which ‘unpublished authors can sell their work on the Apple iPad at virtually no cost’, according to Dean Takahashi at Digital Beat. To wit:
“Smashwords, a site where writers can publish their own e-books, said today it has signed a distribution deal with Apple to put its books into the iPad iBookstore. Mark Coker, chief executive of Smashwords, said in an email to authors that his company has been working on the deal ever since the iPad was announced. And, yes, this means that unpublished authors can sell their work on the Apple iPad at virtually no cost.” – Dean Takahashi
  The next couple of years are going to very interesting indeed, people. Buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy ride …


John McFetridge said...

So, trashy will be okay? That's a relief.

Tastes are everchanging, I suppose, but there aren't usually many markets that don't get served somehow. Things will continue to change, but most of us will continue to be middle-brow and we'll still want to read stories.

Dana King said...

“Without some form of institutional support, there is a risk that only the trashy and the brilliant will thrive."

Let's see, what's the appropriate word for this?


Bill James (the American baseball writer, not the mystery guy) was once asked what would happen if major league baseball went broke. (This was a concern to some in the 1980s when people thought salaries were getting out of hand. How quaint.) James said there would be baseball as long as people were willing to spend money to watch young men play it. Different cities would have teams, and the players would realign themselves, but the end result would be the same: people paying to see baseball played well.

Same thing. The current model may expire (and maybe it should), but there will be something to read so long as someone is willing to read it. Despite dire predictions, people are still reading. Niches will be served more or less well, just as they are now. (Let's face it, no publisher is taking a loss even now because they believe so strongly in the survival of the vampire PI with zombie sidekick genre.)

The landscape will change, but so long as people want to read stories--and they always will--someone is going to have to write them. And those who write them best will rise to the top eventually, one way or another.

Mike Dennis said...

People have told stories to rapt audiences ever since we stood up straight. This ongoing digital revolution is just the latest bend in the road.

It is indeed a brave new world out there, boys and girls, and like it or not, we're all going to be a part of it.

adrian.mckinty said...

I think newspapers and the literary elites are partly responsible for turning people off books. (Young men will watch baseball Dana but they wont read books). We're either offered Twilight and the Da Vinci Code or some middle class soul searching wankfest which the Guardian and Times reviewers loved because they went to the launch party with the author and she was very charming.

In my small circle of friends I know four people who started reading Wolf Hall at Christmas all of whom have now given up.

Eoin said...

Adrian you are spot on.

Remember when they said TV would kill off cinemas? It didn't happen but unfortunately what has happened is that independent cinemas have been wiped out by major chains. The last time I was in Dublin the Stella in Rathmines was the only small suburban cinema still in operation.

With the likes of Amazon, Tesco and Walmart in the US dominating the book selling business someone is going to get squeezed out. Maybe it'll be independent bookshops but I'd like to think that publishers and the retailers will push out the agents who brought about inflated advances on ridiculous books.

In an ideal world bookshops will also act as publisher, as in Sylvia Beach's Shakespeare and Company. Afterall they are the people who really know what people want to buy.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, if newspapers are in part responsible for turning people off books, would it be uncharitable to suggest that they, too, are getting their comeuppance, deluding themselves and dumbing themselves down into irrelevance and extinction?
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Fiona said...

Interesting, Adrian. I loved A Place of Greater Safety, but have yet to finish Wolf Hall. I lent it out to a friend at Christmas, and *he* left it on a chair in our house on his way back home three weeks later. With a bookmark halfway through. It rather annoys me that I rushed out to buy it.