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Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Spaghetti on the wall

"Throwing spaghetti at the wall," ark Coker made the comment in a conversation on Late Night Library, and as such a brilliant description it stayed with me, the red glutinous mass, straggling strands of pasta slowly pulling and sliding down the wallpaper before the whole lot comes off and hits the ground with a squidgy splat.

He was Describing the difficulties of picking the next best seller, spotting the manuscript that can be turned into a healthy profit and it came to mind recently reading a post by Hugh Howey on his own blog, "The State of the Industry" a candid look at the state of publishing today and a reflection on the last fifteen years. Discussing the often mentioned changing landscape, and bringing out the details with reference to his own experiences in commercial and self-publishing.

Howey's conversation is part of a long running exchange involving mixed metaphors; on the one side are the nostalgic traditionalists, for whom the commercial publishers are gatekeepers and guardians of civilisation and self-published authors as a barbarian horde at the gates.

Regarded as the protectors, or dictators of good taste. Good word that, dictator, full of subtle nuances but the reality remains. One who dictates leaves no room for choice, and the grip of the commercial publishing companies was just that. A dictatorship who decided whose voice was heard,

Like a Wizard of Oz, hiding behind the curtain of Saviour and protector of civilisation; is the reality a handful of megalomanic corporations eking out their place in the ultimate ideology. Survival.
Neither is entirely true, the authors have a desire to be heard and the meagre trickle through the commercial gateways created an environment of frustration, even desperation - the Vanity press is, I believe a creation of the traditional publishing route, channelling the frustration of authors with the financial ability to jump over the wall and bypass the gatekeeper.

Howey unpacks recent history, weighing the authors taken up by the commercial presses against the massed ranks of the independent, self-published authors who have worked out another route to publication. The 99.9% of books and authors who were not allowed to publish.

A situation that has brought the traditional authors and publishers to seek regress against digital and self-publishing through advocacy groups in a public relations struggle, arguing that we were better served when a tiny number, 0.1 % were allowed to publish. Urging the old way be protected against the new.

The wedge is firmly in the crack, the old way has to change, and a recent article in the Bookseller on recent eBook sales falling over the last year only tells part of the story. The figures quoted are for the Big 5 publishers and provided by Ingram and others. Sales figures for the majority of independents and small presses are missing. Are the independents experiencing the same abatement or is there another layer to this story. 

The comments below the article tell a revealing story, something touched on in an earlier post regarding recently negotiated contracts and eBook pricing. The cost of the commercially produced eBook sometimes equal to and occasionally more expensive than the print version has hit home. Readers are not buying at the price asked and going elsewhere.

They have a choice, they will not be dictated to, and the choice is widening all the time. The dictators are finding the ground once so firmly held is not so secure and they don't like it.

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