Saturday, 14 February 2009

Wheel out the Dinosaurs

By Darren E Laws

I tuned into BBC’s The Money Programme with high expectations to see an investigation into the current state of play in the world of publishing but was disappointed to find a programme that did not even scratch the surface of the challenges facing the publishing industry today.  Instead it went down the lazy route and rolled out the dinosaurs for sound bites and the usual pop culture diatribe that we once used to associate with tabloid newspapers.

Watching the programme was like seeing someone guide the last lemmings on earth blindfolded to the edge of a cliff.  What is frightening about ‘Media Revolution – Title Fight’ is that it is clearly a programme that has been pitched and set to an audience that believes it is witnessing a revolution in the publishing industry.  How could the programme ignore the impact of digital technology, yet it did.  Instead it concentrated on the removal of the net book agreement, yes this was a turning point and an important factor in where we are now, but the net book agreement was abolished over a decade ago, a lot has happened since then.  Obviously a lot which the mainstream publishers choose to ignore as did the makers of this programme. 

The focus (which the BBC is still continuing through other radio and TV programmes) on celebrity biographies is interesting and one which the major publishers see as a saviour of its inability to face digital and technological change or actually read and sign interesting new talent, rather than throwing money at ‘celebrities’ to write, or paying huge advances in bidding wars, which cannot be a sustainable business model especially in this day and age.

I am hoping Will Self is aware of the impact of digital technology and not just how Amazon has screwed publishers to the rafters while the supermarkets pick over the remains of the corpse they have so delightfully served up.  Famine or feast?  We have an industry running around doing an awesome impression of an ostrich with its head well and truly buried in the sand or up its own backside.

So did the programme have its finger on the pulse of what is happening in the industry.  It had its finger on the pulse of the class discriminating, ego-centric, narcissistic monsters that populate the industry.  The people who have too much power and too little understanding of the real world.  The people who are the cause and reason the industry is in the condition it is in today.   The dinosaurs.

It was almost laughable when they lauded the Richard & Judy programme as a powerful influencer in the world of publishing.  The latest viewing figures for this programme is now 8,000 per episode.  Hardly the viewing figures or influence achieved by Oprah. 

Overall the programme was screened five years too late.  BBC you have a lot to learn about the industry as it stands today.  Sadly for the publishing industry afraid to embrace digital technology or address a business model eighty years out of date, I fear that it may never learn until it is too late to do anything but severe damage limitation…a bit like addressing the problems of our financial institutions.

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