12 June 2006

Publishing and Digital Media

Anyone who follows the book trade will know that it has been characterised recently by lots of takeovers and mergers - between both publishers and the big retailers such as Waterstone's and W.H.Smith. The net result of this, put rather crudely, is that customers actually have a smaller selection of merchandise to choose from - whilst these giants all go in search of best sellers and big earners (which are not always the same thing). Some best sellers actually sell amazingly few copies. And many of them have arrived at the top of the best seller lists via very dubious routes. Publishers are now invited to pay for having their titles placed on distributors preferred lists and TV chat shows.

On top of that, companies such as Waterstone's ask for huge payments from publishers merely for the privilege of having their merchandise displayed in prominent positions. We're talking tens of thousands of pounds. The same is true of supermarkets, who will only stock titles that are being heavily promoted - and they ask for discounts so enormous (up to sixty percent) that some small booksellers have been known to buy their stock of Harry Potter books (for instance) directly at their local Tesco - because it is cheaper than ordering from an orthodox book retailer.

As these titles are artifically massaged into the best seller lists, this process is assisted by reviews in newspapers and magazines, where their value is boosted further by sheer brand exposure and a widespread reluctance to point to Emperors without clothes.

It's a situation which many writers find very depressing. Nonentities and worthless dross are being celebrated, whilst work of genuine quality can't even get onto the shelves.

But there are some antidotes to this, and they lie within the grasp of those willing to embrace new technology. False and inflated reputations can be undermined by radical opinion formers such as bloggers and critics who are not in the clutches of some paymaster.

Books can be created by the print on demand process (POD) and marketed via the Internet - as Iain Dale and Guido Fawkes have just done with their Little Red Book of New Labour Sleaze. This book was produced in less than three weeks - and sold out its first print run in the same time.

The Guardian announced today that it would be putting news into its online version before it goes into the daily printed newspaper. This is a distinct sign of the times - that the digital world is making inroads into traditional media.

Opportunities are there. It's up to us to go out there and take advantage of them. More on this topic in posts to come.


more on PUBLISHING here

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