Tuesday, 30 March 2010

The end is nigh

Honestly, if I hear one more time that the end is nigh, I might kill myself.

I'm serious. I don't know about you lot, but this writer can't move for articles by literary authors or broadsheet columnists ( often both ) declaring that the publishing industry is in the final stages of terminal decline.
Books, they weep, have had their day. Boo Hoo.

I was doing an interview on Monday for a fairly commercial radio station, when this came up. Now how these things usually go, is that sandwiched between the traffic news and Chain Reaction by Dianna Ross, I'm asked, by a DJ who hasn't read any of my books, a. where I get my ideas from and b. is Lilly Valentine based on me.
Everyone knows where they are with this stuff.

But no. On Monday I was asked, in tones last reserved for the death of Princess Di, whether book discounting would ultimately lead to end of creativity as publishers focussed more and more on the big sellers.

Look, I know where he was going. Of course the current tiny profit margins on books mean vast quantities have to be shifted and some of the more serious books are never going to have that broad appeal...but come on, dude, do the lovely listeners care on their way to the office?
What they know is that they can get books cheaply and who am I to deny them that.

When I was a kid I had about twenty paperbacks on a shelf in my bedroom. This was about nineteen more than most of my mates. Books were bloody expensive. A luxury. Is it really for me to suggest we go back to that? Not on bloody national radio it's not.

Then there's the e-reader. Apparently this isn't a smart new gadget, but the destroyer of fiction as we know it.
Writers all over the internet are clutching a copy of their favourite novel to their bosom and declaring their undying love for the very paper it's printed on.
I often wonder if at the advent of the stone tablet some travelling minstrel was telling anyone that would listen that writing stories down was the spawn of the devil. That humankind would no longer need or want stories in this new fangled way.

Now I too, wonder if I'll ever get along with a Kindle, but I'm sharp enough to know that this is because of my AGE. My kids will no doubt embrace it like all the other technology I can't quite get to grips with.
Like most other ten year olds, my children are hardwired to love stories. They read voraciously, everything from Harry Potter to Alex Rider. They insist I read to them every night.
The other day I told them about e-readers and their reaction was simply 'cool'. Loads of books at your finger tips. Good one.

Now I don't want to come across as some sort of Pollyanna. I'm as aware as anyone that times are hard and that the publishing industry is having a tough time. We writers are on the cusp of some big changes.
I guess I just don't see it as necessarily a bad thing.
Humans have spun yarns since the dawn of time and I'm convinced that will continue.
How it will happen, I don't yet know, but I'll be buggered if I'm going to waste energy worrying about it.

14 comments:

Old Kitty said...

Hi

I just worry that Cheryl Cole just signed a "£5 million book deal" to er.. "pen romantic novels.".

Sorry off topic but it's hard not to despair.

I'd love a Kindle that I could afford! One day, Old Kitty, one day...

Take care
x

Roderic Vincent said...

I worry too, Helen. Not much of a market for the sort of stuff I write.

I read most of a novel on my phone recently and now I need to go to the opticians.

CarolineG said...

'I often wonder if at the advent of the stone tablet some travelling minstrel was telling anyone that would listen that writing stories down was the spawn of the devil. That humankind would no longer need or want 'stories in this new fangled way.'

Ha ha! I haven;t embraced the idea of the eReader yet, but am sure it's only a matter of time.

Deb said...

Great post, Helen. People will always want to read. Whether that's on a stone tablet, a paperback book or an eReader. I remember the outrage across the nation when records were replaced by CDs, videos were replaced by DVDs, Walkmnas with iPods, but we all still listen to mucis and watch films.

Helen Black said...

Rod - I suppose I do worry a bit, but then I worry a bit about the national debt and global warming.
There's not a fat lot I can do about much of it except to just keep on doing my thang.

And Deb, yes, I do remember the horror struck young men across the country when CDs came out. Apparently, it was the death knell for music etc etc
And yet the music industry seems as buoyant as ever...

Susie Nott-Bower said...

I s'pose I worry in a different, Luddite kind of way. I don't believe story-telling will ever die out. But I do worry about the fact that we are heading more and more towards a non-sensual, cerebral kind of creativity where much of our input is virtual. I love the feel of a book in my hands. It's real, and somehow there's a sense of narrative in turning the pages. Scrolling down a screen doesn't have the same feeling. The other thing - and I know this is very personal - is that when I read a good book I feel 'filled up' by it, as if I'd eaten a good meal. That visceral feeling isn't there when I read from the screen. Perhaps it will come...
Susiex

Keith Havers said...

Never listen to the 'experts'.
Thirty years ago they were telling us that we were heading for the 'paperless office'. Have you been in a modern office lately?

Gillian McDade said...

I dread the thought of having to read off a screen at a point in the future. For me, it's a chore and too much like work.

Paper books for ever!

Xuxana said...

Kindle isn't the answer for all readers. I certainly can't afford one. But I can afford to buy discounted paperbacks.

Just ignore the changes in publishing, then they don't exist, right? ;)

Helen Black said...

Keith - my own looks like a bomb site most days LOL.
And xuxana, I wonder if e-readers will come down in price. Like tellies?
HBx

womagwriter said...

I don't think the advent of paperbacks did away with publishing - just meant more people had access to books. And e-readers likewise won't be the end of publishing - they just mean books are available in a different format, more accessible to many people. Publishing just needs to adapt and move with the times. It has done so before, can (and will) do so again.

No matter on what device you read a book, the publisher still has a job - find the next great writer, edit the book, market it. Printers on the other hand might have a harder time surviving if we all switch to e-books.

Anonymous said...

I'm in with the pessimistic lobby. Things do change, mostly, alas, for the worst. I know I'm getting on but I look back with reverence to my grandmother's house with its quietly ticking wall-clock, the pendulum swing - usually made of beautiful brass. There are books I'm just dying to get my hands on and I know they are on the net for free but I can't for the life of me read a whole book that way.

I bought a beautiful hardback in Derry a couple of years ago and read it recently and it was a delight to read, so I went hell-for-leather for the sequel; I bought it as a paperback and every bit of space is used up for print, almost touching the top of the page; no wide margins as in the hardback.

It's not only writing that's an art and a craft; book-making is one too that can be done with loving care or done with cheapness in mind for the throwaway reader.

I'm not looking forward to reading this sequel though I just loved its forerunner. Please let's have the pleasure of books crafted in a way that respects the reader and the creative energy of authors.

Derek said...

Maybe Cheryl Cole secured the big bucks because the publisher thought that, like her mojo-restoring hair products, she's worth it.

Ev said...

Great post - I think we'll be cutting out the middle-man is all. Writers will always write, story-tellers tell tales and audiences read or listen. This will never change - so a few globalized companies might take a dent in profits, it won't stop me writing!