Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Be very afraid

By Darren E Laws

Halloween is almost here, the Frankfurt Book Fair has just finished and six months after the end of the London Book Fair it is sad to report not much progress has been made by the publishing world and its eagerness (or lack of) to embrace the digital future of publishing.  Paul Coelho makes some very interesting observations that the industry is still struggling with the Internet.

Coelho says there is "a lack of understanding of the web on the part of the industry", which could mean they end up travelling the same path as the film and music industries.

"Instead of seeing in this new media an opportunity to invent new ways of promotion, publishers concentrated on creating micro sites, which are totally outdated, and a few of them complained about the 'misfortunes' of the other cultural industries, perceiving the web as the 'enemy'," he said.

Coelho's answer is to give his books away in electronic form on his blog site The Pirate Coelho.  He says openly that for the industry to survive content must be shared freely.  This is a similar challenge faced by the music and film industries both of which are investigating forms of digital rights management.

Coelho is experiencing a growth in sales even though he is giving his electronic content away.  The music industry has also survived despite the messengers of doom that foresaw the end of the industry.  The majority of young people who get their music now from the net instead of a record shop balance paying for downloads with using peer to peer (P2P) torrent sites.  Though the majority of free P2P torrent sites share illegal content young people do not consider the actions they take to be breaking the law.  In fact many bands are now joining the actions of Coelho and either giving away their content on controlled sites or allowing it to happen because 'word of mouth' from these downloads actually lead to increased legal sales.

Tackling how to produce a working model that maximises web exposure while generating income is obviously important to all artists.  Without income, artists will be severely hampered.  MJ Rose today launched her novel The Reincarnationist as a time limited free download because she knows the value of word of mouth and of giving potential customers something of value to help generate a sale.  I tend to agree with this approach and it is a subject I have been trying to come to terms with as well. 

From the perspective of an independent publisher who appreciates every sale, the decision is do we follow the trend and give away eBook versions of titles and if we do will this hamper printed copy sales.  Personally I do not think sales of physical paperback or hard back copies will be affected.  With that in mind we have decided to give away eBook versions of my next novel 'Dark Country' direct from our web sites - and on its publication day for a limited period to monitor the impact on sales. 

Is giving away digital content an act of madness, altruism or simply recognition that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.  Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, and Coldplay among many other bands have given away content and seen exponential growth in actual sales.  Nobody believes for a moment that because they gave their content away it was of a lower quality or worse still, worthless. 

Free can be a good thing, it scares the establishment. Quite apt for this time of year.

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