Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Welcome to Lostland



In a little over 48 hours the good people of Scotland will vote in an historic referendum which decides not only the fate of its governance but also how the rest of the Union will be defined in the world. Make no bones about it; every vote cast is a momentous decision from which there is no return. Whatever happens, these islands will never be the same and Scotland will take a generation to recover. With a country divided, wounds are being opened that will if not treated carefully will fester as Scotland marches towards its future.
I won’t hide my feelings; I am a true believer of a United Kingdom. We are stronger together. The future is more assured and thanks to the arrogance and slack-jawed approach by not only our incumbent prime minister but coalition government and an even weaker stance by the Labour party we are on the verge of seeing the union dissolved.
I can understand a distrust of Westminster politics but to rage against that in the face of common sense and advice seems very short term against what could be long-term disastrous ramifications of a vote for independence.
An independent Scotland (I will resist using the term IS) will not have a currency union for the very reason that the Bank of England will not underwrite the huge risks involved with a go-it-alone small nation. It’s not a case of if Scotland’s oil revenue dries up but when Scotland’s oil revenue dries up. The UK estimates 16 billion barrels are left. Alex Salmond states 24 billion. If we go in the middle and suggest 20 million as a conservative estimate which equates to 20% of an independent Scotland’s entire budget who will make the shortfall when oil runs dry? If an Independent Scotland overspends who will make the shortfall? These are just two of the reasons why a currency union won’t happen because the Rest of the UK (RUK) won’t be the falls guys in this scenario.
The notion that an Independent Scotland will automatically join the EU is also a point which Salmond adamantly states even though the EU itself has stated this could take up to five years and then only if Scotland accepts the Euro as its form of currency. But that’s okay because an Independent Scotland can join the list of Nordic trading countries.
An Independent Scotland wants to rid itself of nuclear weapons, maybe blue facial paint and harsh language will work against unknown nuclear threat but one thing it won’t do is allow them to join NATO despite what Mr Salmond says. Alex Salmond seems to be living in total denial of any legitimate objection to an independent Scotland. Not just partial denial but TOTAL denial. An Independent Scotland is beginning to sound more and more like a one-party-state with President Salmond at the head. His attitude of it’s my way or the highway is very unsettling.
Yes, things aren’t sunshine over Leith with Scotland’s current arrangement in the UK. Believe me it’s not for England too. We don’t even have our own assembly/parliament, we don’t have the promise of extended powers, in fact as an Englishman I watch Scottish MP’s presiding over and voting on affairs which have nothing to do with the governance of Scotland but affect me as an Englishman. Things are not fair, things are not equal but things are a damned sight better together than apart.
This referendum has been divisive, it has been damaging to the economy of the UK and it has opened wounds which were once closed and caused rifts in families that were never there. I only hope that whatever the outcome on Friday morning that those divisions heal.
Regardless of which way you are voting, think about your children’s future and their children’s future and remember the old adage “How do you tell if a politician is lying?”
“It’s because their lips are moving.” is true.
If the vote is for yes then good luck and bon voyage because I think the voyage may be a lot lonelier than you anticipate. I will be sad to see Scotland annex itself from the rest of the UK. We will be weaker apart regardless of the spin and the hyperbole from the politicians on both sides.
If it is a vote for yes then Prime Minister Cameron should do the decent thing and immediately resign. There is little point in calling for a new election or even having the proposed election in May as we would then be placed in the bonkers situation of re-electing Scottish MPs to reside over UK matters for a period of 16 months while the road to independence is mapped out. If it is a yes vote then the RUK’s general election should be differed until Scottish independence is complete.
The political landscape for both an Independent Scotland and RUK will be changed forever, making it very difficult for any party to have overall power in the RUK. Alliances will be drawn and coalition governments will be the norm, with the balance of power held by parties such as UKIP and other independents.
I honestly believe this Pandora’s box was never fully thought through and I believe either way we lose. Welcome to Lostland...

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Is this another anti-Amazon Smokescreen from Publishing’s Big Boys?



Is there a smokescreen being created by publishers as Amazon threatens POD for out of print titles? A book should never go out of print! Surely this is the publisher’s obligation to keep their back-list available and a move to POD for titles which have ran their course with a publisher is a simple and effective solution to keeping books in the hands of readers and author’s fans. There was an argument which I saw recently that some publishers are worried because the quality of POD is inferior. All the more reason for publishers to source an excellent POD supplier and provide the quality they can control. By the same token Amazon have no right to simply hi-jack titles and print them POD  but the onus is on the publisher to ensure that authors can generate income from their back-list. 

If any authors are struggling with this issue with their publisher then it really needs to be confronted head-on with the publisher and the author’s agent if he or she has one. Clauses must be added to contracts which guarantee the availability of titles through POD once a print run has been exhausted.
POD used to be a dirty word but I guarantee many readers would not spot the difference between an excellent POD title and a print run book. I can honestly say that many of our POD titles have actually been better than the print runs supplied by one of the UK’s leading printers.

Amazon’s tactics here may be viewed as being wrong but what they are exposing is a very real neglect of many author’s who simply fall off the radar because the publisher is too busy pursuing the next 12 year old literary genius or d-list celebrity memoir. Clearly Amazon cannot simply produce a POD version without the consent of the publisher but this state of affairs should not be allowed to happen in the first instance. Publisher’s look after you author’s and ensure that while under contract their books are always available. It’s that simple really.

Monday, 2 June 2014

The Frustrations of Being an Independent Publisher or Why Amazon is Actually Saving Independent Publishing

I have read a heck of a lot of posts talking about the evil entity that is Amazon and how Amazon is destroying publishing. From my perspective this couldn't be further from the truth. Sure Amazon has been allowed to gain a strong foothold on publishing. I choose my words carefully - it has been allowed - allowed by publishers and authors. 

Many authors and independent publishers have no issue with this, having suffered at the hands of traditional routes to market via high st retail outlets for longer than they care to remember. Everyday is a battle trying to convince book buyers to have a look at their titles. Knowing that it is pretty much a futile effort on their behalf. A cursory glance if we're lucky followed by a quick dismissal as buyers return to the 'sanctity' and 'safety' of the lager publishers. So, what are buyers afraid of risking by investing in small businesses in Britain - by this I mean small independent publishers. The answer is pretty much nothing. Let me explain.

 All books 'bought' (and I use that term very loosely) by buyers are actually 'bought' on sale or return. Meaning that if after a designated period the books have not sold, they are returned to the publisher and any monies exchanged are promptly returned to the retailer in exchange for the books. So, no risk for the retail outlet. Now let's look at why they prefer dealing with larger publishers - yes, they have larger marketing budgets so there is more likelihood that there will have been some exposure  to the title from the consumers point of view...possibly. But here's the kicker - they run extraordinarily large runs of books. On the sale or return method (or no risk of exposure to the retailer method as I like to call it) the retailer can 'buy' thousands of copies of a single title and flood the stores with them - it's great for turnover for two reason.

1: The publisher is likely to pay for prime locations in the store to actually enhance selling more copies (Don't believe the charts or the hype. It's all about how deep a publisher's pockets are)
2: The retailer can return every unsold copy sometimes within weeks of publication to the publisher and claw back every single penny - sometimes they don't even have to display the books - let's face it, who can check every single store, right?. The large publisher gets a little cash boots to quickly invest and earn some interest off before the books are returned to them. i.e you scratch my back...

With buyer's reducing range of indie books in store it is becoming increasingly difficult and frustrating for independent publishers to get vital book events to promote books even at a local level. A certain high street store invariably hides behind an array of excuses when trying to decline a book signing or launch event in store. Managers up and down the country seem at odds as to what excuse they can use not to engage with independent publishers. Usually this terminates with a veiled response ending at the MD's door.    

Here is a couple of corkers I have been told over the past year:

"Oh, you need to guarantee 80 sales on the day to make it worthwhile" To which I challenged them to name any single book which had sold 80 copies in a day in the past 6 months. Silence pursued.

"In line with our new stricter author event guidelines, I must consider whether her books are suitable for our market and will actively sell off the shelf, and unfortunately our sales don't reflect this." To which I responded, If your buyers aren't buying the book and placing them in-store how can they sell? Silence pursued.

There is much wrong with publishing and book retail in general - don't get me started on publishers selling off their over large runs at ridiculously cheap prices to supermarkets and remainder stores. These are usually the remainders sent back from the high street stores - but when there is an absolute stranglehold on buyers by the big five publishers it is difficult for independent publishers who scrape a living through Amazon to have much sympathy for their plight when they complain about an uneven playing ground. If you want an uneven playing ground try wearing the shoes of an independent publisher for a day.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Why Huge Publishing Advances can be Huge Steps Backwards


The reality of a six figure advance is highlighted this week by the failure of Harper Collins to realise its investment in Kindle best-selling sensations Mark Edwards and Louise Voss. A lot of noise was made in 2011 as the Harper Collins joined in a desperate scrap to secure the writing talents of the duo. Sadly and not surprisingly the transition from Kindle sensations to mainstream authors did not work for either Harper Collins or Edwards and Voss. The lure of big money is impossible to resist for most authors and for some they think the journey has ended there and then. Money in the bank, a big publisher behind you, books secured in high street stores and supermarkets...happy days. But the truth in the modern and complex retail environment is much more difficult as Edwards and Voss have found out. And this points to an extremely important factor which both Harper Collins and Edwards and Voss appear to have missed. I am talking about the disconnect between publishers and readers and authors and readers. Edwards and Voss were Kindle sensations through their own hard work and marketing. Harper Collins naively assumed all those Kindle readers would follow Edwards and Voss into the supermarkets and book shops. This was as likely to happen as Waterstones or WHSmiths core base of customers buying all their books online. The two are distinct and different animals. Sure there is a cross-over but percentage wise the cross-over is small. And here lies the rub for the future of the industry and brick and mortar environments. Books in these environments are spoon fed to us by curators (buyers) who make the choices for what we read. They make these judgements for us based on certain criteria: marketing budget, relationships with publishers, print runs – yes size matters, even if it means pulping a few hundred thousand unsold books. We were used to being told what to read by ‘influential’ reviewers – don’t for a second believe that all reviews are impartial and unhindered by the same criteria as buyers face. The whole of publishing was sewn up in a nice virtuous circle which the Internet has broken and publishers are still struggling to come to terms with. For now – but who know for how long – there are enough retail outlets that support the cosy virtuous circle but these are diminishing. Independent book shops in the UK have fallen below 1000 outlets. Book buying shopping habits have changed, who knows if these changes are permanent. Edwards and Voss have now signed for Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer imprint having learned the importance of reconnecting with the readers they worked so hard to win in the first place while wanting ingress into retail at some level. Louise Voss recently told The Bookseller “It is so hard to get into bookshops these days. It would be lovely to see our book getting into WHSmith but it is getting harder and harder and both Mark and I would like to make a living through writing books.” As an independent publisher I can only second this sentiment and it echoes the importance of the work authors do in making those connections with the new readers through social media activity and online engagement. Whether self-published or with a publisher authors in the new age are the most powerful aspect of their own success. Publishers can add a vital role through expanding the reach for authors and their books and adding to the media reach as well as through new platforms such as apps. Publishers and authors can work together but both need to realise how the boundaries have changed and what the expectations and realisations of this new democracy are.

Friday, 11 October 2013

PR Fluff and Puff

We are all guilty of it. Terms such as hotly tipped literary sensation, bidding war bonanza and the next JK Rowling (Substitute any authors name you care for here, it depends on the genre – Stieg Larsson, Stephen King, EL James etc). These are no more than PR devices meant to engrain in the mind of the casual reader some element of worthiness to their next ‘must-have’ purchase. The same can be said to books which win awards. The reality is that even the Man Booker is no more than a bun fight in a tea shop. Awards are supposed to be a recognition of achievement but often real achievement and worthiness is overlooked in the fog of PR and deep pockets. Deep pockets to fund the PR machine and to pay the fees needed to get a book shortlisted. No, I am not suggesting any impropriety; the Man Booker is open to all publishers as long as they can fund the prize money. By which I mean coughing up £5k if you are shortlisted and a further £5k if you win. So clearly this award does discriminate on a basis of cash flow and circumstance.

So, how do we learn to discriminate between the fluff, puff and hyperbole? Discretion and curiosity remain two key tools in our armoury and forgive me but this is where I am going to praise Amazon for what it is allowing to happen in the book buying marketplace. It is giving the consumer or the reader a little more democracy and choice. It does not discriminate anywhere near as heavily as ‘those who know better’ and make our choices for us. It allows the consumer the chance to find the good, the bad and the downright awful and this allows the cream to rise free from the restraints of PR.

This is not an attack against PR. It is one of the best and most powerful tools that can be used with discerning journalists and editors as long as there is an actual story, but when the story clearly is lacking and it is no more than the contents of a hot air balloon, it pays to pinch yourself every now and then and scratch beneath the surface a little deeper to find the truth and remember not everything you read is true.

Friday, 19 July 2013

The Cuckoo Who Squawked has them all of a Twitter

As news filters through that JK Rowling’s unmasking as the author of The Cuckoo’s Calling was from her lawyers’ it seems a little hard to swallow. If Rowling was serious about keeping her crime writing pseudonym of Robert Galbraith safe, you would assume everyone connected to the project would have been made to sign an non-disclosure agreement (NDA) with severe penalties for anyone found leaking the story or those connected to anyone leaking the story. Not wanting to duck the issue, this could look like a well timed PR stunt designed to do exactly what it has achieved and that is to sell a load of books after stirring curiosity. Will there be swift justice?

It really does beggar belief that the best friend of JK Rowling’s solicitor’s wife, would disclose this information on Twitter, let alone the fact that the trusted legal employee (Chris Gossage) would be so careless in the first instance to reveal the truth so casually. Stranger things do happen though. Would this happen at Penguin? Or is it all a PR lark? If true I dare say Ms Rowling is huffin and puffin as well as effing and blinding.

Having sold 1500 copies prior to the leaking, the book has now been reprinted with over 140,000 copies flying onto the shelves.

Ms Rowling is not naive and I cannot imagine she would have had no measure for recourse built in to keeping her identity safe. If this is not a PR stunt then we can safely assume that there will be consequences for Russells Solicitors, Chris Gossage who revealed the identity to his wife’s best friend Judith Callegari who promptly repeated it parrot fashion on Twitter – how ironic. If true, they must be feeling like a bunch of tits.

It certainly does make you wonder about the standards of legal professionalism, and whether Ms Rowling is appointing a new legal team to take action. I can already see them circling like birds of prey.