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All of the figures breathlessly trotted out to a compliant and all too credulous media are based on sales of traditionally published books by large publishers. America has been wooed by figures from Nielsen which only cover books with ISBN numbers (omitting, therefore, every single book published straight to Kindle), while the UK has been assured that a sales decline among the big five publishers is representative of the market (when it most clearly is not).
It all rather reminds me of the knight who won’t stand aside in Monty Python’s Holy Grail. ‘Rubbish,’ he declaims after his arm’s hacked off, ‘’tis but a scratch.’
Now I, oddly enough, don’t actually care what format you prefer to read your books in. Whether you love the smell of printed books or believe the earth is flat, that’s fine by me. I don’t buy into this whole triumphalism of print over ‘e’. It’s all a bit like the Mac vs PC stuff: too much pointless partisanship. The consumer will, when the smoke blows away, dictate what format of content they prefer.
The greatest danger of all, to my mind, is that the book itself will decline. But the sight of traditional publishers, desperately bobbing about in the sea, clinging to the wooden spar of traditional print, warehouse, sale and return – the model that has sustained most of them through long, long careers - pricing ebooks at unreasonably high levels and then pointing to consumer reluctance to pay those prices as a sign that the format itself is broken, is more than I can bear.
Never before in history have so many readers bought so many books from so many authors. The truth of the quiet revolution taking place is that people who otherwise would never have got their books to market (me, for example) are now able to share their work with global audiences. There are thousands of people out there finding new readers and millions of readers finding new authors whose work they enjoy.
Don’t get me wrong – every lunatic who thinks they've written the best thing since War and Peace now escapes the qualitative filtering process, so there’s lots of rubbish out there, too. But I have never met anyone who could put their hand on their heart and say they haven’t ever bought a traditionally published book that was utter rubbish.
The processes have changed. The filters have changed. As with every aspect of the digital communications revolution, we are expected to take more responsibility for the content we consume and share. We are editors more than ever before, we are the filtration process. It’s not perfect, there’s plenty of room for evolution. But it’s still all very, well, punk and I love it for that.
Never before in history have so many readers bought so many books from so many authors. And almost half of them are independently published by authors or small presses - with the penetration of ebooks in this incredibly diverse and dynamic new market blossoming thanks to low price points that reward readers and, critically, reward authors just as well, if not better, than their 10% share of a printed book's cover price through a big publisher.