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Some interesting articles about the
world of publishing


In a world Dickens would not have recognised, artist Adam Bateman has used more than 50,000 books to create a series of "sculptures"  like the one in this picture.

Incredible though it may seem, in 1905 there were a host of critics who condemned the automobile as a passing fad.  Yet this single invention revolutionised the twentieth century.  It so redefined how people worked, lived and learned, that between 1900 and 1920 England left behind its agrarian way of life forever and embraced the Industrial Age instead.  One machine thus brought about an avalanche of social, financial and educational changes by its indirect creation of factories, suburbs and unified school districts. 
One hundred years later another innovation - the Internet - is changing the way we work, live and learn.   The articles below demonstrate the seismic shift in the literary landscape which twenty-first century authors are witnessing.

The Hidden Price of a Christmas Bestseller.
Every day thousands of shoppers decide to buy a new book because Waterstone’s prominently displays or recommends it.  The reader may imagine that merit alone has inspired the country’s largest book chain to champion the volume now resting in their hands. The truth is a little less romantic.
In a confidential letter to publishers seen by The Times, Waterstone’s has set out what it expects them to pay if they want their books to be well promoted in its network of more than 300 stores this Christmas.
The most expensive package, available for only six books and designed to “maximise the potential of the biggest titles for Christmas”, costs £45,000 per title. The next category down offers prominent display spots at the front of each branch to about 45 new books for £25,000. Inclusion on the Paperbacks of the Year list costs up to £7,000 for each book, while an entry in Waterstone’s Gift Guide, with a book review, is a relative snip at £500. "  Click here to read the full article in The Times by

Publish and be damned:  a defender of free speech.  John Calder's retirement ends the career of a man who championed controversial writers.  "I only took on things  I believed in," said Calder.  Click here to read the full story in Britain's Independent newspaper.

One of England's leading environmentalist authors, Dr. David Reay of the School of Geosciences at Edinburgh University, published a thought-provoking article in the London Times Higher Education Supplement wherein he expressed concerns about the environmental impact of publishing his latest ecology book using traditional methods.

"Even in the shadow of the environmental studies shelves - which groan under the weight of titles giving the expert synthesis on everything from arsenic pollution to climate change - I shudder to think of the potential for harm. For, like Christmas, this first-time feeding frenzy at the bookshop will be short-lived. Soon the returns will begin flowing back to the publishers, vanload after vanload of unwanted stock hauled off to become a vast reservoir of fodder for the pulping machines," he wrote.  Click here to read the full article, reproduced courtesy of the author and The Times Higher.

The information revolution has forced creatives of every stripe into a to-the-death battle with media owners
"Most writers, most creative producers of every stripe, are engaged in a to-the-death battle with media owners. One reason is digitalisation; another is the increasing stranglehold of rights contracts; a third, connected to the previous two, is simply how long media owners can keep selling what we produce."  Typical media contracts now demand the author hand over his  rights "in any and all media and by any and all means now known or hereafter invented, throughout the world and all parts of the universe, in any and all languages."  Click here to read the full article by Giles Foden in The Guardian, 24th June 2005.

Why the Writer is the last to know

It’s an old worry of writers, frequently mentioned by many of them, that their publishers don’t tell them everything there is to know about the publishing of their work.  Are these authors simply paranoid, unhinged by the monastic nature of the creative process?  And if they are, does that mean they are wrong?  Anyway, I shall lay out some authors’ complaints and also some things that indeed publishers don’t tell their writers.   Click here to read the full article by Martin Arnold in The New York Times, July 25, 2002.


Too posh to publish?

That common leveller, the internet, dictates that the publishing game, as we knew it in the 20th century, is over. Copyright protection, like it or not, will eventually go, just as the Net Book Agreement did. Second-hand books will sell in increasing quantities and the buyers on eBay and Amazon won't give a damn whether or not the publisher and author lose out. It's goodbye to all that. The web appeals to the many who question why publishing houses should be the gatekeepers of information. We're all publishers now, or at least we can be.  Click here to read the article by Colin Walsh in The Author, the magazine of the Society of Authors.

Who are you writing for?
One of the most searching questions you can ask of any writer is: who are you writing for? There are various answers to this inquiry, which can be summarised as ranging from my bank manager to my muse to, the best of all possible audiences, myself. Robert Louis Stevenson gave another good reply to this question when he observed, in Travels With a Donkey: 'Every book is, in an intimate sense, a circular letter to the friends of him who writes it. They alone take his meaning; they find private messages, assurances of love, and expressions of gratitude, dropped at every corner. The public is but a generous patron who defrays the postage.'  Click on link to read the whole article by  Robert McCrum in The Observer, 20th March 2005

** NEW **  Life, but not as we know it - the celebrity book invasion.

Autobiographies by those who don't write for those who don't read have become a publishing sensation, wrote Ben Macintyre in The Times on May 6th 2006.   "As one British literary agent puts it: “The celebrity memoir is the jackpot. Everyone is looking for the right combination, and by Christmas there will be half a dozen television celebrities slugging it out at the top of the bestseller lists.”


** NEW **  "He writes for the people, not the critics."

You don't get many writers like Alaa Al Aswany in the West any more - writers whose references are Chekhov and the nouveau roman rather than the latest sales figures and Richard and Judy's current picks;  writers who labour long and hard for no financial reward (and no hope of any).  Please click here to read an article in The Times on September 16th 2006 by Robert Twigger and Samia Hosny.


** NEW **  "Here's looking at you, for ever, in e-world."

"...we're constantly seeing new products in new ways and by new methods.  And the pace of it is so fast we are as aware of living on the brink of the future as we have ever been."  Please click here to read an article in The Times published on 11th June 2006 by Andrew Sullivan.

The Long Tail
Forget squeezing millions from a few megahits at the top of the charts. The future of entertainment is in the millions of niche markets at the shallow end of the bitstream. 
Unlimited selection is revealing truths about what consumers want and how they want to get it in service after service, from DVDs at Netflix to music videos on Yahoo! Launch to songs in the iTunes Music Store and Rhapsody. People are going deep into the catalog, down the long, long list of available titles, far past what's available at Blockbuster Video, Tower Records, and Barnes & Noble. And the more they find, the more they like. As they wander further from the beaten path, they discover their taste is not as mainstream as they thought (or as they had been led to believe by marketing, a lack of alternatives, and a hit-driven culture).   Click here to read the entire article by Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired magazine.

A miss hit
Companies should wake up to the new economics of the internet, and think abundance, not shortage.  The internet is changing the entertainment business from one that is driven by hits to one that will make most of its money from misses. This is good news for consumers, because it means more choice, and we all like things that will never make the best-seller lists for CDs, books or movies. And although it might sound strange, this "new economics of abundance" is already the basis of the net's most successful companies, such as Amazon, eBay and Google.  Click on this link to read the story by Jack Schofield in The Guardian, 24th March 2005

Writing Well Isn’t Enough

If you read Publishers Weekly you’ll see book revenues rising in the double digits and publishers enjoying brisk sales despite the best efforts of our video culture. In the U.S. today, more different books are published, and more copies of them sold, than ever before. However, if this doesn’t gibe with your experiences submitting your work, there’s good reason for it. The reason is these booming unit sales are fueled by a tiny minority of big authors, and the large numbers of books published are becoming more homogenous all the time.    Click on this link to read the full story by Jim Hornfischer in September 1995.

Publishers toss Booker winners into the reject pile
They can’t judge a book without its cover. Publishers and agents have rejected two Booker prize-winning novels submitted as works by aspiring authors.  
One of the books considered unworthy by the publishing industry was by V S Naipaul, one of Britain’s greatest living writers, who won the Nobel prize for literature.   Click on this link to read the full article by

Books aren't just for reading
Books aren’t just for reading, according to artist Adam Bateman, who is winning acclaim for his innovative book sculptures.  He currently has a solo exhibition in Brooklyn featuring book structures that include cubes, oblongs, spirals and one huge column three-feet thick, eight-feet tall and weighing over 4000 pounds.  Click on link to read more on

M6 Toll Road built with pulped fiction
Old copies of novels are being used to help prolong the life of the UK's newest road.  It has emerged that about 2,500,000 of the books were acquired during construction of the M6 Toll.  The novels were pulped at a recycling firm in south Wales and used in the preparation of the top layer of the West Midlands motorway, according to building materials suppliers Tarmac.   Click on link to read more:  BBC News, 18th December 2003.

Paperback revolution - 70 years since Allen Lane launched cheap books for the masses.
The first Penguins I ever saw were Aunt Maud's thrillers. My aunt's mouse-scented, spinsterish home in Putney seemed to breathe self-denial. The crucifixes, the umbrella-stand full of walking sticks, the fusty sofa cushions, the willow-pattern plates on which she served cold tongue and radishes - it all spelt "No Fun" to my five-year-old eyes.  It was an impression confirmed by her library - a glass-fronted bookcase entirely filled with green-spined Penguins.  Click on link to read more:   John Walsh in The Independent, 29th April 2005.

University dumps rare books
In his satire about a library, The Battle of the Books, Jonathan Swift recounts that "a restless spirit haunts over every book till dust or worms have seized upon it."  More than 300 years later, the library at a London university is having its own battle with accusations of "book-burning" and "sacrilege" flying through the air.   Click on link to read more:  Duncan Campbell in The Guardian, 18th June 2005

Google to scan famous libraries
The libraries of five of the world's most important academic institutions are to be digitised by Google.  Scanned pages from books in the public domain will then be made available for search and reading online.   The full libraries of Michigan and Stanford universities, as well as archives at Harvard, Oxford and the New York Public Library are included.   Click on link for more:  BBC News, 14th December 2004.

Steinbeck’s Birthplace to Close Its Libraries
The Central California town of Salinas, birthplace of Nobel prize-winning author John Steinbeck who wrote “The Grapes of Wrath,” will close its three libraries next year as a cost-cutting move.

San Francisco (Reuters), 16th December 2004.   Click here to read the full story.

Publishers “dumbing down”
It seems the latest trend in publishing is "accessibility", with examples of this including a new, less highfallutin’ translation of War and Peace, "gobbet-sized" serial editions of big books like Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, and a simplified version of Hawking's most famous work, A Briefer History of Time. The original, his publishers concede, was "a landmark volume in scientific writing." "But it is also true," they go on, "that in the years since its publication, readers have repeatedly told Professor Hawking of their great difficulty in understanding some of the book's most important concepts."  Click on
link to read the whole article by Marina Hyde in The Guardian, 13th September 2005

Publishing makes shift to digital
According to a study commissioned by the British Library, 90% of newly published work will be available digitally by this time.   Only half of this will also be available in print form, with just 10% of new titles available only in print.  It represents a "seismic shift" in the world of publishing said British Library chief executive Lynne Brindley.   Click here to read the full story.

Steal This Book.  Or at Least Download It Free.
Talk to Warren Adler, and watch some favorite clichés crumble.  Mr. Adler has published 27 novels.  But did he follow the tried-and-true conventional print route for “Death of a Washington Madame,” his 28th?  No.  He’s self-published that one electronically, and e-mailing it free, a chapter at a time, to anyone who asks.  Fogies (like this reporter) who still want the feel of pages “can always print the chapter out,” he said.  “The main thing is, give readers a new book for free, and they might go back and buy some of the former books.”  The way Mr. Adler, 77, sees it, portable electronic readers will soon do to paper books what the Walkman and iPod did to boom-boxes.  “Print publishing has had a great 500-year run, but the print book is morphing into the screen book,” he said during a recent lunch at Pigalle, a French restaurant in Manhattan’s theater district.  By Claudia Deutsch in The New York Times, August 21, 2005.   Click here to read the full article.

Publishers face authors in latest digital-rights fight
The music industry has been brawling for months over who owns the rights to digital tunes.  Now it’s the book industry’s turn.  Today in New York, Random House will face e-book publisher RosettaBooks in a legal battle that pits publishers against authors.  At stake are the rights to publish older books in electronic format – and the legal standing of the nascent e-book industry.
On Feb. 27, a day after RosettaBooks went live selling 50 titles for download, Random House sued Rosetta over the rights to eight books by William Styron, Kurt Vonnegut and Robert Parker.  Random House maintains that it owns the electronic rights to books it published before e-books ever existed.   Click here to read the full story by Janet Kornblum in USA Today, July 2001.

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