I haven’t timed things well. Or so it seems.
Here I am dedicating myself to the writing of fiction (and to ancillary indulgences such as this blog on reading and writing) – just at the very moment in history when the book trade is going up in flames.
There are many Jeremiahs prophesying doom. One such is Colin Robinson, whose article ‘The loneliness of the long-distance reader’ has just appeared in The New York Times. He cites several gloomy trends. They include a worsening of sales figures, a decimation of independent bookshops, a diminution of reviewing space in newspapers and magazines, a contraction of public library funding, and a reduction of publishing budgets (directly affecting author’s advances, editorial input, marketing efforts, etc.).
That’s not the whole story, of course. There has been a huge boom in on-line informal reviewing sites such as GoodReads, and while purists may complain that a forum for slapdash opinions by hobby readers is no substitute for carefully considered and carefully written reviewing by expert literary critics, there is surely much to welcome in the opening up of freely exchanged views.
You can read Robinson’s article in full here.
He doesn’t suggest a remedy. And as he himself has recently ventured into the world of publishing with open eyes, perhaps he doesn’t really believe it’s necessary to find a remedy. He doesn’t say so outright, but the implicit point of his article may simply be that other publishers will have to change rapidly if they are going to survive.
This etching – Sono Leggibile (I am readable) by Francesco Campanoni – hangs on my wall. Could that be me in a precarious posture on the third shelf from the top?
Presumably he has a lot of confidence in the business model adopted by OR Books, the publishing firm that he co-owns, which is basically an e-book and print-on-demand operation, selling directly to the reader and avoiding the costs of excess print runs, storage etc.
Whether a new business model for publication and distribution will be enough to save the day for serious writers and readers isn’t yet clear to me. Are there any encouraging thoughts out there in the ether? Hello? Hello?
But wait – there is something you can do about it, you know, and every individual effort counts. You can buy my books!
What – you’ve bought them already? Good, good, but there’s no limit to the number you’re permitted to purchase. So solve all your gift problems for the year with one bold gesture…
Thank you! You’ve just made a writer, a publisher, and a bookseller happier – and simultaneously prolonged the lifespan of literary culture as we know it. As they say in the classics, it will be accounted unto you for righteousness.
If you’re feeling a shudder of disgust at the way in which a meditation on My Bad Timing has turned into a crude piece of spruiking for my own books, be assured that the lapse pains me too. Perhaps I should re-title this post My Bad Manners.
There may be a few bloggers who never twitch with embarrassment at the self-absorbed and self-promotional tone that usually suffuse websites like this one. But for my part I confess to blushing at the utterly immodest tone of what I find myself writing. Why then do I do it?
An excuse, admittedly feeble, for this shameful side of blogging is that the book trade’s languishing condition (summarised above) leaves little alternative. The admonitory voice in one’s head keeps saying ‘Most successful writers are flogging their books by blogging their hearts out, so if you want your sales to match theirs you’ll have to market yourself just as relentlessly as they do, distasteful though this may be for someone with a sensibility as exquisitely refined as yours.’