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Saturday, 4 August 2012

Would you like Earl Grey or a copy of Sleepyhead?

Mark Billingham, author of the Tom Thorne detective series, criticized the growing self-publishing industry that allows writers to sell their work electronically for pence.Billigham made his comments at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate, after fellow author, Stephen Leather spoke about self publishing during a panel talk. Stephen Leather  said e-books provided a better deal for readers and writers, who can undercut those using traditional publishers and agents.

However  Billingham received applause from the audience when he responded by saying books were devalued if they were sold for “less than half the price of a cup of tea”.

 What makes this so interesting is that both men are well respected novelists, but Leather who both self publishes as well as having many of his books with trad publishers, has long championed self publishing and had success with both backlist and new titles. While Billingham does have a point about books being devalued he is far wide of the mark if he thinks this is down to self publishing - for years now, long before the self publishing boom, UK supermarkets like Asda and Tesco have been selling books at a loss, and that includes Billingham's titles. I bought one of Billingham's Thorne series for £1 at Asda and that may just be enough to cover a cup of tea, but it certainly won't stretch to a couple of dunking biccies.

The devaluation of the book is something that's been happening for years and years, and before Amazon even invented the Kindle, Waterstones were doing this in order to lure readers away from the small bookstores who couldn't afford to discount titles so heavily. And what are stores like The Works doing if not training consumers to pay less for books?

Yes the book is being devalued.
Yes it is wrong.
But it is not only down to self publishing, and is a trend that's gone on ever since the UK NET agreement was done away with.The thing that self publishing has done is empower writers like never before and it is changing the industry. The old publishing model had been around for a long time now and maybe change is inevitable.


Stephen Leather said...

Rather than the cup of tea analogy, I like to compare books with wine. I am a big fan of Frascati and rarely pay more than £6 a bottle. I have a fridge full of it! But if I go to dinner with friends, I will take a bottle of champagne and pay up to £30. If I am out celebrating I will happily pay up to £80 for a bottle of Nuits Saint Georges.(It was my uncle's favourite wine and I drink it in tribute to him).

That doesn't mean that the Nuits Saint Georges is worth eight times the Frascati, or that it costs eight times more to produce. People decide whether they want the expensive wine, or the cheaper wine. They have the choice.

What you don't see is the makers of champagne and expensive claret pouring scorn on on the cheaper wines and telling them that they are devaluing wine in general!

Nor do you see high-priced escorts telling streetwalkers to raise their prices because they are devaluing the price of sex!

What we have here is an elite group of writers upset that anyone can now join their 'exclusive' little club. They feel threatened and are trying to keep the amateurs off their turf. They won't win, of course.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

I must say I agree with you fully. As Bob once said, the times are a'changing.