The rise of digital publishing and the death of the author

On seeing The Guardian‘s article on digital publishing and the death of the author, I was immediately reminded of my English BA days when I wrote about Roland  Barthes’ essay on ‘The death of the author’. Despite the differences in context, it appears that appealing to readers is more important to authors than writing titles that make a lot of money.

Digital Book World (DBW) surveyed 1,600 self-published authors and only 20% of those claimed it was “extremely important” to “make money writing books”. On the other hand, 56% said that publishing a “book that people will buy” was more important. Of course, in this day and age, social media/online platforms make it far more easier for authors to distribute their works. What’s more is that this also allows them to find audiences for their work. While digital publishing has indeed proved an advantage to authors in some instances, the DBW survey also stated that 54% of traditionally published and 80% of self-published authors earn less than £600 each year.

While the surge of self publishing combined with digital means that discoverabilty of literature is easier online in particular, it also means that the definition of an author is almost being devalued as a result. This is emphasised by Hugh Howey’s statement (Howey actually sold thousands of copies of his book, Wool, on Amazon prior to finding a publisher):

the self-publishing revolution has allowed “hundreds of thousands of voracious readers with a dream of writing a novel” to write books “out of love and passion, just like a kid goes out and dribbles a basketball for hours every day or kicks a soccer ball against a garage wall”. But over the past few decades we wouldn’t have called these people “writers” any more than we would call that kid in the back yard a footballer. If all it takes to be a writer is to stick your work online then we’re all writers now.

Howey further states that self-publishing is currently going through a “renaissance”. Today’s new authors do not have the same amount of experience  and “market maturity” to go up against the 1% of authors who have had numerous years of experience.

I guess if I was to link in some criticism here, I would use that of Michel Foucault’s What Is An Author? (1969):

The idea of the author is not a timeless figure: the figure and significance of the author varies across time, and from one culture to another, from one discourse to another and so on.

Drawing from what Howey states, and Foucault many years prior to this article, is the death of the author an actual occurrence? Or is it simply going through yet another change?

Picture by Donald D Palmer, 1997

Picture by Donald D Palmer, 1997

Image comes from: http://suewatling.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/tag/death-of-the-author/ [Accessed: 27.01.14]


Book Prizes: more than just a celebration of fantastic literature

I read such a sad, yet inspiring Feature article in the London Evening Standard today. James Ashton told of how he had lost his three-year-old son due to an undetected heart condition a year ago and how he had set up a book prize, entitled Oscar’s First Book Prize, in his son’s memory.

Ashton describes in the article how Oscar had such a unique and vivid imagination and how this inspired him to set up the Book Prize. Ashton states:

Our sim it to find the best pre-school book of the year that celebrates a child’s love for magical stories, something that would have satisfied Oscar’s vivid imagination.

The Prize has been set up by the Evening Standard and Waitrose. The winner shall be the “best first book for children aged five or under published in 2013″ and shall be awarded £5,000. It is thought that Oscar’s mother; Viveka Alvestrand; the chief executive of Waitrose, Mark Price; former CEO of Pearson, Marjorie Scardino and the deputy editor for the Evening Standard, Charlotte Ross shall judge the entries with the winner being announced in May 2014.

Evidently, this shows that Book Prizes are not just about celebrating outstanding works of Literature, but people themselves. It can celebrate culture, history, memories, and as Ashton states: imagination. When you look deeply into things, to me it’s almost as if the Prize has been launched to portray the fact that Oscar will live on through the imagination within the winning book. Ashton states in the article how he imagines what Oscar would be like were he alive, therefore portraying that Book Prizes are also incredibly important.


Publishing houses: closed for business

Over the past few months there have  been many articles written about the closure of bookshops across the country. What hasn’t been reported as much is the closure of publishers. The Guardian recently reported, that 98 UK-based publishers have gone out of business over the past year, which is 42% more than the year previous. And it is not just book publishers which have been closing, but newspaper, journals, periodical and directory publishers have also closed down over the past year.

It is thought that with pressure from the internet and online retailers such as Amazon, independent publishers in particular are struggling to make profits as margins are made smaller to compete with discounting on books. Digital piracy is also a problem for publishers, as well as being able to locate secondhand books at the click of a button. It is this latter issue which has threatened niche academic and educational publishers. Sites such as Amazon Marketplace has made it much easier for people to get their hands on textbooks, for example, and whilst this may be good news for students, it is not so great for the publishers who do not receive anything.

These statistics outline one of the main causes of publishing house closures:

Growth in sales of ebooks, whose average price is £3 or less, compared with £5.50 for a paperback, has also undermined publishers’ margins. UK consumer ebook sales rose by 134% to £216m in 2012, while print sales fell by 1% to £2.9bn, meaning that consumer ebook sales now represent 7.4% of book publishers’ total sales, according to the UK Publishers Association.

From these figures, it clearly shows that ebooks are only accounting for around 7% of book publishers’ sales. When you compare £216 million ebook sales to £2.9 billion print book sales, I think it’s safe to say that print is still the alpha male in this industry.

Although it still doesn’t stop the fact that many businesses are closing, including the Evans Brothers (the publisher who published Enid Blyton’s works 1930-1960). It is also suggested that one of the other reasons for publishing houses closing is due to the end of the Net Book Agreement in 1997 (an arrangement first established in 1899 which allowed publishers to set a fixed retail price for their books and thereby refused to sell stock to retailers who discounted their products). A couple of years ago, The Guardian wrote that it was time to bring back the Net Book Agreement.  While this is a point to consider, it is difficult to suggest what is best for the industry, as bringing it back would mean consequences to booksellers, for example. These vicious circles of possibilities and events revolve around the fact that change is sadly inevitable. We are still in a time where change is continuous and where it can also be a good thing. It’s just knowing how to adapt to change that businesses must bear in mind in this day and age.


Back to blogging

After almost a month of no blogging, I am back. After finishing my Masters degree and handing in my dissertation, I decided to reward myself with some job hunting and a trip to Barcelona – anyone who hasn’t visited the city before, I HIGHLY recommend it; it is so beautiful.

The view from Parc Güell

The view from Parc Güell


The generation of tomorrow and the “embarrassment” of books.

Liz Bury  wrote a worrying, yet interesting, article on The Guardian‘s website yesterday (4th October 2013) revealing results from the 2012 Annual Literacy Survey which the National Literacy Trust carried out. ‘Books are deemed a thing of the past by YouTube generation of readers’ – the ‘embarrassment’ of books means that children are watching more YouTube videos instead.

It was reported that since 2005, there has been a 25% decrease in the amount of children who read outside school. The National Literacy Trust’s survey included approx. 35,000 young people, and it was thought that almost a third of children aged between eight and 16 do not read any text-based media in their leisure time. In the space of 7 years, the percentage of children who claimed to have read in their own time was down around 10% (38.1% in 2005, compared with 28.4% in 2012).

It is thought that one of the main causes of this is ‘embarrassment’. 16.6% of young people said that they “would be embarrassed if their friends saw them read” in the 2010 study; this increased to 21.5% in the 2012 study. Jonathan Douglas, director of the National Literacy Trust, said that it “is a significant social and cultural trend which needs to be addressed”.

I understand that whilst growing up, children and teenagers constantly feel that they need to ‘fit in’; I remember feeling like that in my younger years. Although I never felt that reading was deemed ‘uncool’ and was certainly not ‘embarrassing’. It is harder to accept that this is how children of today feel about reading, particularly given that I never personally experienced this when I was a child. (Perhaps it was because I grew up in the 90′s, before the internet boom??) Saying this, I can only imagine that with the surge in social media sites, YouTube, Vine, and video-based communication, such as Skype, it is a lot easier for children to choose to communicate/search the web through videos as opposed to writing. Douglas mentioned the original thought was that “children’s reading was migrating from print to digital, [...] that they were reading ebooks. But [...] they are consuming information in ways that do not involve reading or writing text”.

So, what is being done to encourage children to read?

  • The National Literacy Trust has launched a campaign to promote reading whereby children and adults must nominate their reading hero.
  • Children’s laureate Malorie Blackman, author of Noughts & Crosses, has recently announced a campaign to support Young Adult fiction in the UK with a YA Literature Convention which will happen in London, summer 2013 (article from The Bookseller).
  • Whilst I have a rather biased negative view regarding Amazon, I have to say that their recent advertisement for their Kindle device is fantastic in encouraging children to read (despite the fact that they are encouraging children to read in electronic form as opposed to print form – I definitely think that needs to be the opposite way around, but still, I guess it is a start??):
  • As I mentioned in a previous post about library closures affecting children’s literacy, organisations such as the Voices for the Library are trying to promote libraries and shows that, despite the closures, there are still many opportunities for libraries in the future.

It will be interesting to see the results which come from the next study generated from the National Literacy Trust so we can see whether there has been any change in statistics (hopefully, for the better!) Certainly, it would be fantastic to see if any of the points I mentioned above may help the cause and hopefully make children aware that reading is not embarrassing, but can be a great experience.


#NationalPoetryDay

The theme of this year’s National Poetry Day (@PoetryDayUK) is ‘water, water everywhere’; inspired by one of my favourite poets (and poems), Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner. The first Thursday of October has marked the special event for the last 20 years. Poetry is a fantastic medium which can express anything. And the best part is, is that everybody can interpret different things from poetry; what may mean one thing to someone, could mean something completely different to someone else.

Matt Lewis writes in an article for The Telegraph: “The aim of National Poetry Day is to celebrate poetry in all of its diverse forms. In doing so, The Poetry Society and its affiliates hope to attract new readers and remove some of the academic, elitist stigma that is attached to verse, making it part of the public imagination again”. Something else which I feel I should mention is how muscians can also promote poetry. Being a fan of Arctic Monkeys, I really enjoyed their slightly altered version of John Cooper Clarke’s ‘I Wanna Be Yours’ which is included on their new album, AM. Anyone who is a fan of either JCC or AM should definitely YouTube the different versions.

On another note, I shall leave you with this:

Possibly my favourite quote to describe poetry.


Library closures and their impact on children’s literacy.

What libraries do for us – and me is an article written by Malorie Blackman on The Guardian‘s ‘Comment is free’ page which took my interest last week.

Blackman emphasised the point that libraries are the “best literacy resource we have” and with many public libraries closing across the country, there is concern that it could have some impact on literacy rates in children. It is thought that approx. 105 libraries have closed or left their local authority control since April 2012.

Many local councils have announced library closures. Lincolnshire plans to close 32 of its 47 libraries and Sheffield are to keep 12 out of 28 libraries open. Blackman commented on culture minister Ed Vaizey’s quick decision to save Jane Austen’s ring leaving the UK, in August, and said how he should be showing the same concern to save our libraries. Like Austen’s ring, libraries are considered “national treasures”.

There have been numerous complaints that the closures are in breach of the 1964 Libraries Act, which specifies that “every authority must provide a comprehensive and efficient library service”. Although despite this the article states that the government are yet to become involved in investigating the complaints.

Blackman questions why these closures are happening in a time where the government has placed emphasis on children’s reading and has also announced plans to reform secondary education, in particular the changes to GCSEs. It is no doubt that libraries offer a fantastic service. Story-telling sessions for young children, homework clubs and knowledgeable staff make up a safe environment where children, and adults alike, can discover and explore.

While libraries make up a significant part of our cultural heritage and have a positive impact on communities across the country, I feel that libraries can only do so much. What I mean by this is children’s parents must also play a significant part in encouraging their children to read and visit the library. Unless a child’s parent takes them to a library on a regular basis, then the child will not encounter the benefits. These library closures also make me wonder whether booksellers will offer more services to make up for those lost through closures? Booksellers could hold story-telling afternoons for young children and themed art and craft days to get children involved in literature. It can also be suggested that bookshops could offer a scheme where parents could trade-in bought books for other secondhand books at a small fee, particularly for those families who may have a low income. Suggestions which hopefully won’t have to be considered.

Blackman’s article finishes with the statement: “Without them [libraries], literacy may increasingly become the province of the lucky few, rather than the birthright of everyone”. “The Institute of Education stated that children reading for pleasure between the ages of 10 and 16 can drastically improve vocabularly and attainment and is extremely important for a child’s cognitive development”. With this statistic, it can be seen that library closures will have a negative impact on literacy in children.

There are, however, sites such as the Voices for the Library which “advocates for public libraries and library staff”. The site presents some encouraging statistics and stated that although library visits were in essence, down, visits via libraries’ websites were in fact up, with more loans being issued via websites. According in CIPFA, book issues increased in 2009 from 307,571,240 to 310,776,757. In addition it is thought that during the period 2008-9, web visits to UK libraries were up 49%. So while, libraries are closing, library usage via websites are up emphasising the point that “these are times of opportunity, not decline”. Like bookshops, libraries can embrace change by enhancing the use of digital. A great example is the new library which opened in Birmingham recently (you can read my blog post on it, here). The new building is a successful mix of tradition and discovery reflected through the incorporated use of digital devices to enhance learning. Certainly, it is current news such as this which shows just how much opportunity there is for libraries in general.


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