Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Paperback Writer..In the beginning was the word.

It's a thousand pages, give or take a few,
I'll be writing more in a week or two.
I can make it longer if you like the style,
I can change it round and I want to be a paperback writer,
Paperback writer.


This week, Amazon are offering Cheryl Strayed’s  best selling book, ‘Wild’ as a free Kindle download. It's a marketing strategy that only a market leviathan like Amazon could afford. Looking at Amazon’s eBook list in the mountaineering section, you observe a broad pricing differential with some  downloads ranging from just 77p up to works like Alan Hinkes’  8000 metre summits book at £16.15 and The Mountaineers anthology, ’Freedom of the Hills’ at £16.74. I’m not sure how many people would opt for a download at this end of the market, particularly as you can get the Alan Hinkes book at only £13.84 for a hardback and the latter Mountaineers work, at only £16.39 for the HB edition and £12.32 for a paperback edition? It's clear though that reading a book through a device is now a preferred option for many readers.

The death of the paper media has long been predicted with the more pessimistic observers predicting that most people in the near future will read their newspapers, magazines and books in a digital format, with traditional books, newspapers and magazines becoming the equivalent to vinyl records and music cassette tapes. A format restricted to eccentrics and luddites.

I do agree that newspapers and most magazines will become digital in the future. As someone who used to do the odd article for the Guardian’s ‘The Northerner’ blog, I was aware through it’s now retired northern editor, Martin Wainwright, that The Guardian was preparing the ground for an entirely digital future. The thing about newspapers in particular is that they are essentially a transient, here today, gone tomorrow publication. Nobody apart from OCD hoarders keep newspapers for more than a few days. Given the price of a quality newspaper in the UK these days-I understand it’s well over a pound now-long time since I bought a paper!- it’s pretty obvious that the daily edition of a  newspaper like The Guardian will pretty soon only be available as a download. I’m not sure whether or not it will still retain a free website or go behind a pay-wall like Murdoch’s down market rags?

However, news sites like The Huffington Post will still be offering a free news service so I’m guessing there is a good chance that The Guardian and Independent will have to rely on advertising for revenue and offer the paper as a free sheet? Which brings me to magazines and journals. What will the future be for magazines like Climb/Climber in the UK and Rock & Ice/The Alpinist in the States? Magazines are a different beast because a lot of readers keep their mags as a source of reference and something to dip back into. As such, sufficient readers will probably keep up the demand for paper editions and furthermore, will be prepared to pay for a digital edition. In short, I can see newspapers going digital before magazines.

As for our paperback writers; I think that there will always be a demand for books although the digital revolution- as I have mentioned before- does open up the market to new writers who would not otherwise have the opportunity to get published. The scary thing for new writers is, the overarching power of Amazon and its impact on the market. With successful books like Cheryl Strayed’s Wild being offered for free, that could be seen as a real punch on the nose to a writer who is attempting to sell his or her work as a digital download. After saying that, we live in a global capitalist market and companies like Google and Amazon are a fact of life. Amazon can undercut anyone in the book/download market. Not such good news for writers and publishers, great news for the general public who can find books and downloads at a fraction of the cost elsewhere.

People will wring their hands and bemoan the death of the traditional book shop or newspaper vendor but sadly, that’s life in the 21stcentury. High Street shops are dying, pubs are closing left right and centre and more people are buying  everything from books to fridges online.

Fifty years from now, God knows what format and devices will be widely used to disseminate the written word? I bet people will still be buying paper books though,although the material will probably be synthetically engineered and guaranteed 'tree free'!


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