In 1963 Bob Dylan wrote ‘The times they are a-changin’. The lyrics in the second verse are the most poignant today for writers and the publishing industry in general.
“Come writers and critics
Who prophesise with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won't come again”
I don’t think Dylan could foresee the coming Internet explosion, and if he could I am sure his lyrics would, as they did then, preach a more powerful sermon than the publishing industry being revolutionised by Print-on Demand (POD) technology. Dylan would, I hope, fully agree with the democratisation of the written word through POD's insurgence. POD and the coming arrival of the espresso book machine to a shopping mall near you, is going to send waves of anxiety to book stores, and by that very act to the established publishing industry. With the increase in technology storage capacity and wired and wireless information exchange these machines could begin to level the playing field for small and independent publishers, especially publishers who already embrace the technology.
As the industry begins to become conscious of environmental matters such as carbon footprint, recycling and waste, POD will more and more been seen as the logical next step. The average 300-page novel produces approximately 1.4 kg of carbon dioxide emissions per copy. Who knows, maybe the bookstore of the future will have several portable POD machines with digital catalogues working away printing novels as they are demanded by the public, rather than published titles sitting on shelves awaiting the recall back to the publisher for expensive and un-environmentally friendly pulping or return to landfill. POD machines in-store could also reduce delivery and collection. The downside? Who wants to wait seven minutes for their 300-page novel to be printed? This wait may not be so bad if accompanied by a cup of coffee or beverage of your choice. But the fact is that if these machines are currently capable of making a book from a digital file in under 10 minutes then who knows what that wait might be in two or even three years. Publishers such as Ken Arnold Books and Caffeine Nights Publishing among many others are waiting at the door for this technology to be rolled out into the coffee shops, libraries and high streets in towns near you, while at present many mainstream publishers continue to ignore the technology, hoping it will go away.
At the moment critics, some authors and many publishers dismiss the idea and notion of POD, but the technology is here and believe me no one ever un-invented the wheel. If the established publishing industry does not want the technology and it appears many don’t, then there is a line of publishers eager to embrace it. The same disdain is held for small publishers who want no more than to stand on the same playing field and have an equal chance at finding an audience for its product. Many publishers know how much of a closed shop this industry can be. Is this a form of snobbery? I could argue strongly that it is. The decade after Bob Dylan foretold that the times were a-changin, the punk explosion rocked the music industry. Punk rock made it possible for every talented and musically challenged individual to form a band, start a record label and find an audience. In some respects social networking sites such as MySpace are helping promote new talent in similar ways. The comparison for the publishing industry is that revolution cannot be ignored. It always starts in the streets and works its way through society, eventually shaking it to its knees.
It is curious that the publishing industry is virtually alone in its contempt for the independent artist. Recent breakthrough artists in the music industry have found their audiences without the need of backing from the establishment and there are also cases of established artists leaving the mainstay record labels to go it alone. Radiohead’s recent experiment where it offered its product as a free download leaving fans to pay what they felt was a fair price for the album proves a point. The experiment had record executives at the major labels both curious and quaking with fear. The project was a resounding success. Even after offering ‘in rainbows’ virtually free of charge, the album still managed to shoot to number one when released, giving the band its first UK number 1 album in years. You may recall Stephen King experimented with a similar trial on the Internet a few years back. Offering individual chapters of 'Riding the Bullet' and leaving fans to decide what to pay. King’s venture in this market may have been premature and he may have tested an audience which was not as sophisticated as today’s net user. Sadly Mr King's effort was deemed a failure.
While artists, musicians and even filmmakers are respected from coming from an independent platform it appears that authors are treated with suspicion and disdain. When was the last time you read an article slamming a 'vanity filmmaker' or 'vanity musician. I dare say rarely if ever. The terminology 'vanity' is only left for authors. Why? I feel the future of publishing is changing and democratising the industry for authors and independent publishers.
Aptly closing with Mr Dylan, he goes on to sing:
There's a battle outside
And it is ragin'.
It'll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin'.
With thanks to Mr Bob Dylan for writing the fabulous lyrics to ‘The Times they are A-Changin’ Bob Dylan
Copyright © 1963; renewed 1991 Special Rider Music