I put together a little blog the other day on the future of books – well, hardback and paperback books anyway – and how they are likely to fare in the future against the continuing advance of the e-book.
I’ve touched on the subject more than once before and I’ve sounded out publishers, booksellers, fellow writers, critics and a wide cross-section of my book-reading friends. Here are the findings of my little survey – which I imagine will come as no great surprise to anyone discerning enough to be reading this blog. (Apologies for that blatant piece of self-aggrandisement)
I don’t want to cover old ground, but the publishers are worried, even the so-called Big Six, and even the most cursory look reveals why. Anyone who pays full whack for a hardback book by any author under the sun is quite frankly away with the fairies, as we say in Ireland. Continuing in the vehicular, the bookseller either saw them coming or else they need their head looked! In plain English they were sold a pup.
I haven’t bought too many hardback books in recent years, but when I did I forked out no more than half price for them and frequently considerably less. The last hardback I bought, just over a month ago, was supposed to retail for £19.99. I picked it up in my favourite store for a knockdown £2.99. Need I say more?
HOW TO SAVE £16
The same store will sell you three new well-printed paperbacks, normally priced at £6.99 each, for a knockdown fiver – a saving of £15.97. Great news for readers, in the short-term at least, but where will that ultimately leave publishers and ordinary bookstores?
Think further ahead and ask yourself what will this state of affairs do to writers in the future? And by writers I mean every scribbler from the top five per cent who make a tidy sum by releasing one or two books a year, irrespective of what the retail price may be, right down through the serried ranks of hopefuls, wannabes and no hopers. I make no bones about it, I’m buried somewhere in that latter group myself.
One author I spoke to isn’t in the least worried about the number of free or cheap books currently flooding the market. “Think about it,” he said. “If you buy a book by an established author – one whose books you enjoy and have read before – you’re likely to keep on reading his stuff. You’ve got to know him, you like his style and you know what to expect. Read something by somebody you’ve not heard of and, even if it costs you nothing, the chances are you’re going to be disappointed. Now and again you may stumble on a little gem but, believe me; they are few and far between.”
THE BIG BREAKTHROUGH
We know all too well there are thousands of wannabe writers out there, struggling with varying degrees of success or failure for the big breakthrough. Few will ever achieve it; many will never get their book off the ground. Some will go down the self-publishing route. It’s easy enough to start down that road – but it isn’t a road paved with gold.
If all you seek is to see your book out there, with your name on the cover and maybe to have it read by your family and friends, then that will probably be reward enough. You can lean back and smile and say “I’ve written a story. It was bloody hard graft, but I’ve done it. It may never make the best-seller list – or any other sort of list, but it is still an achievement. It won’t make me any money – in fact it will probably cost me money; not to mention all the hours of blood, sweat and tears.”
Fair enough and good luck to you. You have earned your moment of glory. You aren’t going to make the Clive Cussler’s and James Patterson’s of this world tremble in their boots, but you have achieved something the vast majority of amateur and part-time writers never will. You’ve written a book and had it published. It might not be a million seller, but someone, somewhere, will read it.