The Amazing, Exciting and Sometimes Sad History of the Book

18 Oct

It has been a while since I’ve posted here at the Bundoran Press blog. It’s not that I have nothing to say — apparently I have lots to say and have been saying, 450 words at a time, over every day at 10 Minutes of Words. If what I have to say on subjects other than publishing interest you, you might want to check it out. Or you can read my occasional but somewhat longer political musings and occasional thoughts on writing my own work on Hayden’s Hubris.

The publishing world continues to be in upheaval, though these days the rate of change seem more like continental drift than actual earthquakes. The Amazon — Hachette fight continues to play out in the negotiating rooms and the press. I suspect it may eventually move to a higher level — the courts or at least the US Department of Justice. Writers continue to take sides though the wisest among them have come to realize that the only side they should be on is their own.

The book business is certainly in a transition and has long been subject to one shock or another. Most people these days think it has something to do with e-books and self-publishing. I was at a talk by long-time senior editor for TOR books, David Hartwell, who suggested it was the purchasing decision — to go from multiple distribution companies to a single source — made by a supermarket more than ten years that started the major upheaval. That one decision had a domino effect: a number of small distribution companies went out of business leading to other markets following suit, leading to more bankruptcies. Eventually there were only a few distributors left. They were bigger, but combined couldn’t move as many titles. And so publishing companies cut back. Fewer books meant fewer authors and fewer opportunities.

What else could you expect? They turned to self-publishing. E-books had been around for a while but suddenly there was supply side excess; Amazon happened to be perfectly placed to fill the void and the rest is history.

It’s not the standard narrative but it has a certain elegance in terms of how markets actually work.

In any case, this is nothing new it seems. There is a great essay in this week’s edition of The Economist that looks at the past and future of the book starting with Cicero and projecting into the next decade or so. The conclusions are interesting though not surprising to me: e-books will take more of the market share but not nearly all of it. Physical books will continue to make up at least 50% of all books (and likely more) though some genres (such as romance and maybe science fiction) will become largely digital. Total sales in dollars will fall with prices but profits of big publishers will grow. That trend has already been shown to be true.

Sadly, more books will be published but authors, on average, will make less money. The recent advice of Nobel jurist, Horace Engdahl, that writers should go back to waiting on tables and driving cabs to make their literature more real, may prove prophetic if not helpful. Russell Smith disagreed with the entire premise but his suggestion is more funding for the arts. Good luck with that.

Amazon will continue to dominate — similar to Mr. Mundie’s circulating library of the 19th century. He would buy up almost half of the print run of most publishers and any author who Mr. Mundie didn’t like was soon seeking other work.

Meanwhile artists everywhere are feeling the pinch. As a column by Elizabeth Renzetti in the Globe and Mail asked: if Iggy Pop can’t make a living from his music, who can make a living in the arts? The recent winner of the Booker Award, Richard Flanagan was ready to give up writing to become a miner. The $90,000 prize will keep him writing. For now at least.

But options continue to present themselves. There is, for example, Kindle Scout, a new Amazon venture that seems to be modelled a little on Wattpad. Thos guys at Amazon are endless innovators — or at least they know where to borrow ideas from. With Kindle Scout, a writer can post part of his novel on-line for readers to access for free. The readers (not, I’m sure, because the frantic pleading of their writer friends) vote for the excerpts they like best and each month, the lucky winners are asked by Kindle to submit the whole thing. If it passes the vetting process, they get a $1500 advance and a five year contract for e-book and audio rights. No mention of print and no certainty sales will ever lead to more cash. In essence they seem to be outsourcing their slush pile. I wish I could get away with that.

Over here at Bundoran, our slush mostly consists these days of submissions to Second Contacts, an anthology who guidelines can be found here. We’re officially closed to novel submissions and will be for a while yet. Despite that there are a few books being examined — books by our existing authors or people I’ve met at SF conventions. We all (Hayden, Mike and Liz) recently spent several great days at Can-Con here in Ottawa. I may blog about that on my personal space later this week.

As for next years’ books, Children of Arkadia by M. Darusha Wehm is now at layout and should be available for review in a few weeks. Alison Sinclair’s Contagion: Eyre is in the final stages of editing and should also be designed by mid-December. Both will be launched at Ad Astra in Toronto in April 2015. Edward Willett’s Falcon’s Egg, a sequel to Right to Know, has been received and will be launched at When Words Collide in Calgary in August. Stay tuned for further announcements.

Money, money, money — share the wealth. As you may know our Indiegogo campaign to pay professional rates for Second Contacts failed but you can still support Bundoran Press to pay writers and artists by participating in our Patreon campaign. The idea is that you make a small monthly donation — $2, $5, $10 — which we use to keep the business going and growing. In exchange we provide you a variety of perks including e-books, souvenirs, editing advice and acknowledgements. If you’ve shown an interest in Bundoran before, don’t be surprised if you get a personal e-mail, asking you to do so again.

Publishing News

Speaking of Patreon campaigns, if you don’t want to fund ours why not support On Spec, whose Canada Council funding was cut for 2015.

Chadwick Ginther has a list of other worthwhile projects on his blog.

Good news for fans of Madelaine Ashby and Ramez Naam. Angry Robot Books has found a new home and the third books in their trilogy should appear — hopefully sooner rather than later.

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