Mood music

If its true that we’ve never read so much about writing, then it’s certainly true that we’ve never read so much about publishing. And certainly never so much about alternatives to publishing.
I’ve been thinking about a post on the status of authors, and in doing so I’ve found it hugely interesting to take a look at some of the ways writers (both famous and not) are now perceiving the industry. Now of course this is hardly a comprehensive survey but the volume of criticism of publishers does seem to be rising as the apparent opportunities to publish outside of the conventional channels increase.

So over the past couple of months I’ve collected some instances of these critical voices and I’m posting a couple of the more interesting examples here. My intention is to tease out and examine some of the recurring themes and perhaps to contribute something positive to the debate.Firstly, Andrew Sullivan, on quality control, marketing, timeliness and the potential of the future.

Ask Me Anything: What Do I think of the Book Industry?(VIDEO)Secondly some further views from author-readers of the Dish on the perils of selection, acquisition and, importantly, how we replay publishing decisions to authors.

Thirdly, the very successfully self-published Joe Konrath, nemesis of ‘legacy’ publishers, lets fly.

It’s difficult to know how representative these views are of authors in general, but there is undoubtedly a challenge. The digital revolution has clearly changed the dynamics of the author/publisher relationship.

But does this mean that the union of publishing and authors is coming to an end?

Agent Jonny Geller contributed this piece in a recent edition of the Bookseller and Hachette, as seen in this document has articulated its approach. But is it enough?

Read/view them and see what you think. I have some thoughts I’d like to share on the subject next week.

Advertisements

Harry Potter and the publishing power shift


To the great interest of book industry watchers the Pottermore shop has gone live. This is, like almost anything related to Harry Potter, very big news indeed. Not so much even for the phenomenon of Potter this time but for the effect it may have on the ecosystem. Excellent appraisals from Mike Shatzkin and Eoin Purcell and the Daily Telegraph here. Mike is convincing on the potential for a change in DRM policy to alter again the balance of the marketplace and I think Eoin is absolutely on the money about the increasing importance of community (and by extension therefore branding) in publishing.

Amazon indomitable?

A quickfire post. I spent an hour yesterday at a literary festival session entitled ‘Are we the last real book readers?’. One of the contributors asked: ‘Have you ever read so much about reading?’. Quite.

Now here’s some more. Rightly the sites following the progress of the book industry are alight with the news of the US Department of Justice investigation into price fixing through the agency agreements. Good articles here at Paid Content and here at the Atlantic.

I need a little more time to think about this, but my feeling is that this is not a simple choice between price fixing or free markets. This is a matter of an entire book ecosystem that is far more fragile than we may realise even now.

But it would seem that not everyone goes along with the genius of Amazon’s business model. An interesting contra take from @firstadopter who questions the underpinning financial model of their shipping business and their digital positioning. I seem to remember that Jason Epstein in his The Book Business raised questions as to the viability of the maths of mail order bookselling. I must dig it out and see if it corresponds to @firstadopter’s critique. The article is worth reading and checking. given the amount of resource it must have required to penetrate the market thus far, it is not inconceivable that Amazon might overeach. To be watched.

I do agree with @firstadopter’s views on the Kindle Fire and ereaders in general. I’d like a dedicated ereader, but I don’t need one. I’m sure its a better reading experience but the iPad is a more than good enough reader (as is my phone) and it does way more. If I’m slimming down my life for convenience why do I need yet another gadget and its accoutrements? And the iPad has set the bar for the experience, why would I want a poor cousin?

The big threat perhaps is not ereaders but the fact that if I have a gadget that combines music, film and books then I will be tempted sorely to get my fix of story from some other medium entirely. We might read less because its handier, easier and (in some senses at least) richer to watch and listen.

(Hat-tip to Joe Esposito for the cue-in on the @firstadopter article)

Back on deck

I’ve been busy this past few weeks but I’m now coming up for air. I’ve had much to think about this past couple of months and therefore I suspect also that there are some things in the offing which will make for an interesting rest of year. I’ve no doubt I’ll be sharing them here, when they become real. Anyway, I’ve haven’t been entirely idle on the internet which you may have seen if you follow me on twitter (@MrGatsby) and the little feed to right has been quite busy.

Featuring heavily on that was the PANZ conference in Auckland last week (Lisa Buchan’s report on Publishing Perspectives here) which was a hugely useful and enjoyable experience that slotted many things into place for me. Highlights for me were Mark Higginson from HarperCollins Australia on social media, the excellent Elizabeth Weiss from Allen and Unwin on their digital publishing experiences and David Shelley from Little Brown UK on why publishers remain relevant in the digital revolution.

Sadly Shelley didn’t reveal much about his day job as JK Rowling’s new publisher.

The whole thing was smart, upbeat and from my perspective at least, very uplifting about the possibilities for publishers who embrace a more vibrantly creative and innovative approach.

Mind you the antidote to that is possibly to read Mike Shatzkin’s latest, which looks at the seemingly inexorable rise of Amazon’s market dominance by asking two questions:

When will the growth in Amazon’s share of the consumer book business stop?

Who will be left standing when it does?

It’s certainly a must read, and while as a consumer I’m always impressed by Amazon I cannot but find the potential monopolisation of the book industry by them (or anyone for that matter) a concern. Joe Wikert clearly thinks so.

But back to innovation, John Lanchester’s Capital appears to be book with its finger on the pulse of contemporary London (Claire Tomalin’s review here) and while I’ve not yet read, I’m hearing great things from those who have. It seems also that Lanchester’s publisher Faber wanted to capture the book visually in its promotion and have created this (this blog is a big fan of book promos):

And they’ve also put up an interview with John:

It’s a good combination of intriguing and contextual and I’d be interested to see its results in promoting the book.

If you’re in Wellington, you’ll know that the NZ International Arts Festival is in town and its Writers and Readers Week starts this Friday with a keynote from Tim Flannery. I am lucky enough to interviewing author and Dr Who screen writer Robert Shearman on Monday at the Embassy Cinema. Interview comes with a full showing of the Dalek episode. Apparently, a cyberman came along to his appearance in Adelaide. I’m hoping for the Master myself or a Dalek of course.