Anyone involved in the book business will have found it impossible to read Robert McCrum's Observer piece, From bestseller to bust: is this the end of an author's life?, without a mixture of emotions. If the twitter response was anything to go by there would have been a range, from defensiveness to denial; from anger to agony. And so on.
"Self-publishing through Amazon changed my life but the way Macmillan have handled me has made that grow." And so writes the author Kerry Wilkinson in a blog about his journey from self-published 'Kindle King' to Pan Macmillan author.
Two and a half years ago, according to more than one national newspaper, I was the 'Kindle King'. Brilliant, yes? Except two of them also called me a "she", which gives you an indication of how deep their research goes.
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It sometimes seems that not a day goes by without another article on the death of the textbook. This is perhaps with good reason; the classroom of the future is one that’s connected, collaborative, and built around tablets and digital devices. That’s if it even exists physically; many point to MOOCs and virtualized learning environments as the way forward. Either way, the isolating world of the print textbook seems to be one that will soon be consigned to the dustbin.
Who will determine the future of the book? Readers? Writers? Publishers? Educators? Technologists? The discombobulated west, or confident emerging markets? Existing trends, or behaviours that haven't yet come to light? Selecting this month's winner of The Bookseller's Essay Competition was a very tough call, because each of the shortlisted entries took a very different approach. Every one doubled in richness and relevance when read alongside the rest.
Format shift doesn't always work as you'd imagine. It is an interesting quirk of publishing history that when paperbacks began to drive the market in the 1970s and 80s, they were often published by specialist publishers unrelated to the publisher of the hardback edition. These paperback publishers licensed the rights off the hardback publisher--and only over time did these publishers get consumed into the bigger houses, and authors accept the inevitable verticalization of their output, whereby their primary publisher became their only publisher across all formats.
On Radio 4's Today programme this week I overheard a discussion between climate change denier Nigel Lawson and the climate scientist Sir Brian Hoskins. It ought to have been a slam-dunk for Hoskins. Not only is Britain experiencing the worst floods in a life-time, but no serious person now denies that man-made climate change is a reality. But actually Lawson came out on top. Where Hoskins expressed quite reasonable scientific doubt, Lawson was confident, bombastic, and assured. Lawson's best rhetorical technique was to use Hoskins' words against him.
Fifty Shades of Innovation
Publishers need to stop flirting with innovation and tie the knot if they’re to avoid inevitable demise. So says Elvin Turner, an innovation consultant to brands in disruptive industries.
“No-one has a clue what to do,” a global publishing CEO recently told me during a conference break. “We’re permanently waiting for someone else to make the first move in case we get it wrong.”
What was the biggest selling book in 2013, across all editions, including digital? My former colleague Philip Stone reported the following in The Bookseller last week.
I read with interest that the Publishing Association had recruited a Communications Manager, who previously worked at the professional association for Anti-Money Laundering Officers. Appointments don’t usually catch the attention but in this case it was just the bringing in of new skills from a different industry – an opportunity to bring in relevant but also fresh skills to add into the mix. It brought back to my mind what I have long thought an overlooked but major issue for publishing – the shockingly narrow experience range of those in the sector.
[Lady Justice via Wikipedia, under CC Attribution-Share Alike Licence 3.0 Unported, see here for author etc.]
I've been a bit quiet recently, at least in these pages, because I've been working on actual books rather than thinking about publishing, but I have to put my head above the battlements to query some of Richard Mollet's polemic from Jan 3.
We have for so long thought of Amazon as a dominant player in the books market, that we might have forgotten to think about what will happen when the giant retailer stops growing.
When your enemy is making a mistake, suggested Napoleon, it is best not to interrupt them.
An equally valid axiom from Margaret Thatcher is that one shouldn't give the oxygen of publicity to those with opposing opinions. But now and again, an opponent may make such a stultifyingly false move that the urge to expose the folly outweighs any possible disadvantages in doing so. In such cases, these historic pearls of advice should be ignored.
There’s a line in All About Eve where Birdy, the cynical old dresser replies to Bette Davis’ characters protestations that Eve Harrington does love her with the line “sure, like an agent with only one client”.
It came to mind while reading some of the closing remarks to the PRH UK announcement earlier this week:
“This is our unique opportunity for Penguin Random House UK to come together across our publishing businesses as one company around the consumer. We are in effect creating the blueprint for a publisher as a consumer brand.”
This week, Pan Macmillan launches The Window Seat, a lifestyle site aimed at women. Increasingly, our marketing focus is on audience groups rather than genre and, more and more, we want to speak to those audiences directly. It’s no wonder, then, that a large part of our digital strategy involves making our websites more consumer-friendly.
In The Bookseller last week we revealed how the major trade publishers e-book sales performed in 2013. The findings showed what most in the trade now accept: that the stellar e-book sales growth seen since the beginning of this decade is at an end. But thinking of this as a flat market seems spectacularly unhelpful.