The title of Tom Tivnan's piece pretty much says it all:
Market slips despite 50 Shades.
Well, yeah. Not even a tentpole book, a smash like 50 Shades, can prop up an entire industry. This is the lesson the movie industry has been learning - well, no, scratch that: it's the lesson the movie industry has robustly and energetically refused to take on board since Ang Lee's Hulk movie tanked in 2003: one massive hit doesn't make up for the loss of the middle market. In Hollywood - and there's a piece in the New Yorker about this which should be required reading this week for everyone in the UK publishing trade - industry responded to the fall off in audiences by making louder, stupider, more notionally crowd-pleasing movies. It hasn't worked - first because a lot of those movies are just awful, as things often are when they aim at a lowest common denominator target and don't take on board that the lowest common denominator is a small, fast-moving, complex thing, despite the fact that it describes simple stuff, and second because even if you hit it you don't cover your outgoings across the board and you often concentrate so hard on making it happen that you fail to cultivate or drive away the longer term customer.
The tentpole book is an attractive bad model. It says "it's okay that everything else is going to hell, we can produce one or two of these a year and live off that and nothing has to change." It makes everyone think that we can put to bed the whole embarrassing discussion of ebooks being more expensive than hardbacks, of just-enough-just-in-time shifts in the way we work as an industry, of routes to market controlled by semi-hostile external entities and a disconnection from the customer (if we even know whether that's bookshops, supermarkets, Amazon/Kobo/Apple/B&N/Google, or the reader.)
We can't. Not even 50 Shades is enough. We have to do what Hollywood didn't: support the midlist, which is where readers are nurtured and sustained, grow the readership and the idea of reading, and make a culture which supports us as an industry rather than yelling at our readers for 'pirating' books and not wanting to pay £15 for the digital version of a book which sells in hardback at £8. If that means embracing difficult discussions like whether publishers' traditional close partnership with conventional bookshops is sustainable, whether books have to be cheaper, whether accounting systems have to be changed to allow for new ways of selling, whether the quest for effective reader-friendly DRM is a ridiculous snarkhunt, whether there's a way of doing digital lending or a Bardowl/Spotify model for books, whether publishing houses have to move out of central London, then that's what it means. The alternative is a slow collapse culminating in the same conversations playing out when it's too late to take real advantage of a changing marketplace, under new ownership.
We have so many bad examples before us: music, movies, newspapers. Let's not try to do what they couldn't, what cost them the greater part of their industry. Please. Let's do something brave and clever instead.
[EDIT: rather superb piece on ebooks and possibility - and on the difference between the UK and US approaches to ebooks, and the results thereof, by Neelie Kroes, Vice President of the European Commission.]
Recent blog posts
- Ten challenges to innovation in publishing
- Publishers should embrace entrepreneurial authors
- Dreams of interoperability
- The Story behind The Story by Bobette Buster
- Pottermore's winning digital strategy
- Tools done changing?
- Publishing is Booming But it's Still Gloom on the High Street
- Authors and book rights – some more truths
- “TOC was a great ride…”
- Bright lights, big web
- I have a strong feeling that
2 weeks 2 days ago
- Paid-For Showrooming Is Madness
3 weeks 1 day ago
3 weeks 4 days ago
- You are asking the wrong
3 weeks 6 days ago
4 weeks 16 hours ago
- Frameworks and Lotteries
4 weeks 2 days ago
- Eisler's point has been misunderstood
4 weeks 2 days ago
- Publish and be damned?
4 weeks 2 days ago
- Great post, Chris! But you're
6 weeks 19 hours ago
- Numbers Game
6 weeks 2 days ago