Yesterday, I saw an old woman and the publishing industry jumping off a roof

The future of traditional publishing

The future of traditional print publishing

Last night, I had a dream.

I was standing on one side of a slightly old-fashioned British shopping street, perhaps built in the 1950s or 1960s, just after the Second World War.

The buildings had right-angled edges and flat roofs – What were architects thinking after the War? Flat roofs? This is rain-drenched Britain, not some part of sun-drenched California.

The shops on the other side of the road were two storeys high and slightly set back from the road with a wider-than-normal pavement. They liked to have lots of pedestrian space in front of shops after the War. I guess there were flats where people lived above the row of shops; I wasn’t really aware of such fine details in my dream.

But I became aware, at the last moment, that an old woman was standing on the edge of the roof above the shops, two storeys up. As I became aware of her, she jumped. She was wearing a light pink, thick woollen coat. And she wore a head scarf.

When she hit the concrete paving slabs below, there was the sound of three – it might have been four – ear-deafening cracks – the sound of breaking bones. There was a slight echo as her bones broke. Her legs hit the concrete paving slabs first, then she crumpled. But she survived the fall. As she lay there, I could see her face contorting as the ever-different agonies hit her. But I could not hear her desperate screams.

“People think you’re certainly going to die if you jump,” I said to someone. “Stupid.”

I guess she died eventually.

Well, she would do, wouldn’t she…

People do.

So it goes.

Yesterday, I went to the first in a two day seminar about Self Publishing held in the Guardian newspaper’s very modern new offices. I was not initially impressed as, at this cyberworld event in their flash new-ish building, it took over ten minutes for someone to tell me what the access code for the internet was.

“Here it is,” she eventually told me, “but it’s very unreliable.”

And so it proved.

Very very unreliable.

It took me around nine attempts to actually post my already-written blog yesterday morning.

Not impressive.

I was also not impressed when the intro included the words (I paraphrase) “Penguin Books are not going to collapse.”

They were taken over by Random House in the last month. The new entity has been nick-named ‘Randy Penguin’.

In a tea break, an art lecturer said to me: “Artists have always been self-publishers when they start out.”

True. And something I had never thought about.

I had also never thought about the fact that, with books now selling online with small thumbnail images of the cover, book designs have to be less detailed and perhaps less interesting than they used to be – in the same way that, when CDs replaced LPs, the cover artwork was more effective when slightly simplified because the physical size was smaller.

The very wise and very clever author Polly Courtney pointed out that the people wheeled on to radio and TV shows to talk about some subject-of-the-moment are often actually not genuine experts – they are just people who have written a recent book about the subject.

The day’s talks made me even more certain that printed books – like vinyl records and soon CDs – are dead. Vinyl records still exist, as do VHSs.

That art lecturer told me a student had recently wanted to shoot and edit something on VHS “to give it an old-fashioned feel”.

Vinyl records still exist. I guess printed books will still exist. But the business will be in cyberspace. Print-on-demand will fill the gap as traditional publishing declines, but eBooks are the future. And self publishing.

Apparently, last year, 18 of the top 100 books sold on Amazon were self-published.

Apparently, crime writer John Locke – the first man to sell over a million self-published digital books on Amazon.com – sold his first two novels at 99p each… His third book was priced at £1.99… and then he priced his next book – How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months! – at £5.99 … It now seems to be on Amazon at £8.99 reduced to £1.88.

Other things I learned yesterday were that only the foolish self-publish in the run-up to Christmas because the current competition from traditional publishers is too intense… and there is a spike in e-book sales in January because people are playing with their new Kindles, iPads and other electronic readers.

Traditional publishing, like the woman who jumped from the roof, is not dead. But it is in agony and terminally crippled.

And, no, I did not make up the dream of a woman jumping.

Yes, I  really did dream that.

Any psychologists out there who can explain the dream, please do.

Any traditional publishers out there with money they want to throw my way to prove me wrong, please do.

1 Comment

Filed under Books, Dreams, Publishing

One response to “Yesterday, I saw an old woman and the publishing industry jumping off a roof

  1. Yes, printed books are dead and it’s wonderfull – we’re all free!

    Oh the years I spent with editors sitting on poems for 18 months only to write me a letter the week before publication telling me they’re re-written the entire 40 lines themselves and “did I mind”? Scurrying to the back of the Nation Poetry Library in the Royal Festival Hall trying to find another thing volume of thrown away musings to ingratiate myself with. Cramming thoughts into exactly 40 lines because no publicition could actually afford the paper it was written on. Finding that I was now writing in exactly the style of the editor to get my work under the wire. What a waste of energy, life and time …may the printed page rot in hell. It was awful.

    Well, I say that but many of the publications I used to get published in are still ongoing … still proclaiming their constant state of penury to grasp more money off their subscribers for physical paper … and still in many cases subsidised by the state even in the era of austerity and tripple dips. So maybe the printed page does have something that the internet doesn’t after all… even if its only pomposity.

    On the other hand the fact that printing on physical paper is actually very expensive and that space on such paper was a premium did mean that there was a discipline to writing that I sometimes think is sadly lacking today. But then again who needs an editor when google analytics can tell you how boring you are mathematically? And who wants discipline when you can have …

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