Thursday, 4 November 2010

Kindle burning

Oh don't make me laugh. There's a report today that angry Kindle readers are giving authors one star reviews in retaliation for their publishers hiking the cost of their e-books. Imagine: publishers wanting premium prices for brand new products! Where could they get such an idea?
Publishing is a nuts economy. Well, we know this already. But readers have to get wise to what is going on here, otherwise we won't have a books industry soon. Well, not one that is worth a damn.
There's a war going on. Its a war of production and supply.
Once upon a time newspapers were wealthy behemoths able to send teams of reporters into foreign lands to rescue, er, donkeys from Spanish beaches. But they covered wars and disasters properly too and thank goodness they did because you certainly didn't get the full facts from government PR departments. Not then, not now.
But newspapers have shrunk - because people don't buy them in the same numbers. We are more literate than ever, of course, but we get our news from the TV and from the Internet. Suddenly the power players in news are the BBC, Fox, Sky, Google.
Publishing is seeing a similar trend. The publishers were in a unique position. They controlled the means of production and supply: it took certain skills and distribution networks to produce and market and sell a book.
Now e-books shift the distribution power towards the big e-tailers. Amazon doesn't need publishers, does it? It just needs writers, and maybe an editor or two. But not a publisher, not really. The Guardian's story on this today points out that the James Bond novels are going to be available on e-book but not through Penguin, 'directly' from the Fleming estate.
Which is great for them but bad news for Penguin.
The problem for writers is that this all drives down prices. Which drives down income. Now you might not feel too sorry for Dan Brown, he might only lose a million or so out of his usual Gazillion a year income. But it is serious for the vast majority of writers who get by on small numbers of sales. If those sales are now for half the price the real book is, if the publishers keep the squeeze on writers to protect their position while giving the e-tailer giants - Amazon, Apple - all the discounts they want, then you know what happens? Writing dies off. Nobody bothers anymore. We go where the money is: and that's elsewhere.
I'm not ashamed to say this. I write for money. Actually, call that an aspiration at the moment. I want to write for money. I need to earn a living from writing if I am to be a good writer and write full time.
So for these reasons I don't want to see Amazon or anyone else discounting and discounting and giving away ebooks for less than the physical books. I want new writers to demand a premium. I don't understand why the new Franzen, for instance, was half price? I'd have paid full price for it. Or waited for a paperback. Why cut the cost of the hardback? Don't get it.
One question for you: do Apple, when they bring out a new iPad or Macbook, do they knock 50 per cent off the retail price to get lots of people to buy it?
Do they hell.
Writers shouldn't be sold short. And readers - e-readers, kindle owners, or those of us who still prefer paperbacks and hardbacks - should recognise that writing oughtn't to be free.

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