Thanks to Chris Wooding for bringing my attention to an excellent and carefully researched article by Lloyd Shepherd over at The Guardian, written in response to the endless doomsaying about the imminent demise of publishing, which pretty much reflects my own much less carefully researched feelings.
Namely that – despite the big trouble in the area of dedicated Brick and Mortar stores that have left Waterstones as pretty much the only big player in the UK and Barnes and Noble in a similar position in the US – there are still a lot more paper books being sold than you might think. That – despite understandable but in my humble opinion overstated fears of piracy – as e-readers become mainstream the legitimate e-book market continues to rapidly expand. That – despite the fact advances are trending downwards overall and it’s never been easy to make big bucks from writing – there’s still, and probably always will be, a good living to be made from good fiction – or even my fiction – and that edgy fantasy ain’t a bad place to be right at the moment, as it happens.
Business is probably going to get tougher. Margins will get tighter. Certainly in retail I suspect there will be blood and perhaps some serious redistribution in the medium term. But I think paper books will be with us as a significant part of the market for some time to come. And if publishers can learn the lessons of the music industry and see e-books as an opportunity rather than a threat (which many are well on the way to doing), sort out the pricing and the frustrating rights issues, offer products that make use of the unique advantages of e-readers rather than simply emulating the paper versions, and ensure that the majority of readers are willing to pay a fair price for their e-books, the future don’t look so bad to me.
Cheer up. It might never happen…
As a related addendum, I get a lot of emails these days from folks complaining that they want to give me money but can’t, since they live in Australia, or Dubai, or somewhere else that isn’t the UK or US and therefore are blocked from legitimately paying for and downloading an ebook of mine. Which seems insane to them. And kind of is. I feel your pain, believe me. I’d really much rather you were paying for that ebook as well, and I continue to agitate as strongly as possible for my books to be available in every language, format, size, scent and colour imaginable. However, the gears of publishing law grind with excruciating slowness, and ebook rights are still inextricably bound up with paper rights with publishers fiercely guarding territorial borders that should mean nothing to the frontier-less internet. So it may be a while before all this gets sorted to everyone’s satisfaction. I remain confident it will be. Until then, might I suggest you order a hardcover, and get it helicoptered out to you in the jungles of Borneo, or wherever it is you may be?